Ball Aerospace designed and built the advanced optical technology and lightweight mirror system for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope

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Ball Aerospace is celebrating the launch of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (Webb) from French Guiana today. The Colorado-based company designed and built the advanced optical technology and lightweight mirror system that will allow Webb to detect light from early stars and galaxies.

“It is truly an honor to be an integral part of the next great space observatory,” said Dr. Makenzie Lystrup, vice president and general manager, Civilian Space, Ball Aerospace. “Today’s launch is the culmination of a lot of hard work by a tightly integrated team that spans multiple mission partners and NASA. We are extremely excited to see the science captured by the new observatory. “

Announced as the Next Generation Space Telescope in 1996 and renamed the James Webb Space Telescope in 2002, the Space Science Observatory is the largest and most complex ever to be built. Once in orbit, Webb will capture the faint light of the very first objects that lit up the universe after the Big Bang.

To make this possible, Ball Aerospace worked with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and Northrop Grumman, the main industrial partner, to innovate the 25 square meter (~ 269 square feet) mirror system consisting of 18 mirror segments in beryllium working together as a single mirror. It will be the largest mirror and the first segmented telescope ever deployed in space, operating at the extremely cold space temperature of -406⁰ F (30K) necessary for infrared imaging of stars and distant galaxies.

Ball also developed the cryogenic actuators mounted on each segment to control the individual positioning of the mirrors and the radius of curvature within a ten-thousandth of the width of a human hair. To align the mirror segments, Ball also designed the 22 electronic flight control boxes to operate in a freezing space environment to individually control each of the 132 actuators that keep the telescope segments properly aligned in orbit.

To innovate, validate and demonstrate the technologies used to develop Webb’s pioneering optical system, Ball Aerospace drew on its extensive experience with space hardware designed for NASA’s four major observatories (Hubble Space Telescope, Compton Gamma Ray Observatory, Chandra X-Ray Observatory and Spitzer Space Telescope).

Ball also plays a vital role in other upcoming space observation missions. He partners with Goddard to develop the wide-field instrument for the Nancy Grace Roman space telescope and provides the space bus and telescope for the spectrophotometer for the history of the universe, the epoch of reionization and the ice explorer (SPHEREx). Earlier this month, the Ball-built Imaging X-Ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) launched from the Kennedy Space Center with the aim of discovering the inner workings of some of the most exotic astronomical objects in our universe, such as neutron stars and black holes.

Powered by infinitely curious people with an unwavering mission, Ball Aerospace is a pioneer in discoveries that empower our customers to go beyond their expectations and protect what matters most. We create innovative space solutions, enable more accurate weather forecasts, conduct insightful observations of our planet, deliver actionable data and intelligence, and ensure that those who defend our freedom bravely advance and return home safely.


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