James Webb telescope layers up for the sun

The five sunshield layers that will protect the James Webb Space Telescope’s (JWST) optics and instruments have been installed.

JWST sunshield

Designed by Northrop Grumman, the shield will prevent background heat from the Sun, Earth and Moon from interfering with the telescope’s infrared sensors. Each of the five layers, which are made of Kapton, is roughly the size of a tennis court. Together they will help reduce the temperature between the hot and cold sides of the space observatory by around 300 degrees Celsius, with each layer cooler than the one below.

The JWST is the successor to the Hubble telescope. It will use infrared imaging to observe distant objects in the universe, provide images of the first galaxies formed and see unexplored planets around distant stars. Due to launch on an Ariane 5 rocket in October 2018, the mission is a collaboration between NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.

“This is a huge milestone for the Webb telescope as we prepare for launch,” said Jim Flynn, Webb sunshield manager, Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems.

“The groundbreaking tennis-court sized sunshield will protect the optics from heat making it possible to gather images of the formation of stars and galaxies more than 13.5 billion years ago.”

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According to Northrop Grumman, each of the membrane layers is thinner than a human hair and was manufactured by the NeXolve Corporation in Huntsville, Alabama. Now that the sunshield has been installed on the JWST, the next step will be to fold the spacecraft up using origami techniques.

“All five sunshield membranes have been installed and will be folded over the next few weeks,” said Paul Geithner, deputy project manager – technical for the Webb telescope at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre.