Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. has begun calibration and assembly of the first flight primary mirror segment for NASA's James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), the cryogenic infrared observatory scheduled to launch in 2013.
The beryllium mirror segment, one of 18 that comprise the telescope's 6.5-meter primary mirror, was delivered to Ball Aerospace from subcontractor Axsys Technologies, Inc. Each of the hexagonal shaped mirror segments is 1.3 meters in size, and weighs approximately 20 kilograms or 46 pounds.
"We are making excellent progress to meet a significant technological challenge that requires exacting, scientific precision at each stage," said David L. Taylor, president and chief executive officer of Ball Aerospace.
One of the lightest of all metals, beryllium has a demonstrated track record of performing on space telescopes at cryogenic temperatures, needed for JWST's infrared observations. The telescope is designed to detect objects 200 times fainter than the Hubble Space Telescope, observing the earliest formation of galaxies and galaxy clusters that followed the Big Bang. The completed 18-segment primary mirror will be 6.5 meters, which is over two-and-half times the diameter of the Hubble Space Telescope primary mirror (2.4 meters). It will weigh roughly half as much as Hubble, but nonetheless remain robust-enough to travel 940,000 miles, or four times the distance from the Earth to the Moon.
Ball Aerospace is the principal optical subcontractor for the JWST program, led by prime contractor Northrop Grumman Space Technology, under a contract from the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, in Greenbelt, MD. Seventeen additional primary mirror segments, secondary, and tertiary mirrors, plus flight spares, will be delivered to Ball Aerospace from its beryllium mirror manufacturing team that includes Axsys, Brush Wellman, and Tinsley Laboratories. As each additional mirror is delivered to Ball Aerospace over the next four years, it will be mounted onto a lightweight, actuated strong-back assembly and undergo functional and environmental testing.
Ball Aerospace is celebrating its 50th year in business in 2006. The company began building pointing controls for military rockets in 1956, and later won a contract to build one of NASA's first spacecraft, the Orbiting Solar Observatory. Over the years, the company has been responsible for numerous technological and scientific 'firsts' and now acts as a technology innovator in important national missions.
Ball Corporation (NYSE: BLL - News) is a supplier of high-quality metal and plastic packaging products and owns Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., which develops sensors, spacecraft, systems and components for government and commercial customers. Ball reported 2005 sales of $5.8 billion and the company employs 15,600 people worldwide.
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