Saturday, March 20, 2010

JWST MIRI Replica Arrives at NASA Goddard

Image comment: The MIRI Structural Thermal Model at the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s Rutherford Appleton Laboratory
Image credits: Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC)

As the Hubble Space Telescope begins to approach its limits, the American space agency is currently working on creating a replacement. Called the James Webb Space Telescope (JWT), the new observatory will be the largest one ever delivered to orbit. However, designing it is very difficult, as some of the technologies that are needed to make it a reality have yet to be developed. But progress is taking place nonetheless, with the spacecraft's heat shields already clearing tests, and some of its mirrors completed. Now, the time has come to test one of its primary scientific instruments.

The Mid InfraRed Instrument (MIRI) is one of the most important components of the new telescope. As such, it needs to undergo extensive testing, so that engineers can ensure it's both highly sensitive, and resistant to the rigors of flying in outer space and surviving a rocket launch. As part of these efforts, a working replica of the MIRI has been recently delivered to the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, in Greenbelt, Maryland. Experts here call the instrument “the pioneering camera and spectrometer for the James Webb Space Telescope,” Space Fellowship reports.

The replica came a long way to reach Goddard. It was recently shipped from the United Kingdom, where it was produced at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, a laboratory operated by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC/RAL). The new observatory represents the fruit of an international collaboration that includes NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). These organizations agreed that the best possible successor to Hubble was a telescope that would be larger, and also capable of observing the Universe in infrared wavelengths.

“Receipt of the MIRI structural thermal model (STM) represents a major milestone in eight years of development work by the joint European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) instrument team. Tests with this prototype model of the MIRI, conducted at Rutherford Appleton Laboratories in the UK, have shown that this science instrument is on track to meet all of its performance requirements. Upon receipt of the STM, Goddard engineers will begin testing it with supporting systems in the Webb telescope Integrated Science Instrument Module to facilitate smooth integration of the flight model,” JWST Science Instrument Payload project scientist Matt Greenhouse, who is based at Goddard, says.


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