Composites construction update: James Webb Space Telescope

In late April, ATK and teammate Northrop Grumman Corp. reported that they have completed construction of the center section of the composites-based primary mirror backplane support structure (PMBSS) for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope.

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In late April, ATK (Los Angeles, Calif.) and teammate Northrop Grumman Corp. (Redondo Beach, Calif.) reported that they have completed construction of the center section of the composites-based primary mirror backplane support structure (PMBSS) for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope. It is the first completed flight subassembly of the PMBSS and is several months ahead of the current baseline schedule.

Northrop Grumman is under contract to NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center (Greenbelt, Md.) for the design and development of the telescope, its sunshield and the spacecraft that will deliver it into orbit.

The PMBSS is designed to support and hold nearly motionless the telescope’s instruments, thermal control systems, beryllium mirrors and other elements during ground tests, launch and, most importantly, science operations performed in orbit.

The center section backplane was designed, constructed and tested at ATK facilities in Magna, Utah. ATK manufactured 1,781 composite parts of the center section using carbon-fiber materials and advanced manufacturing techniques. “We are moving steadily forward in the march to launch in 2018, thanks to the outstanding efforts of our teammate ATK,” says Scott Willoughby, Webb Telescope VP and program manager at project leader Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems. 

The successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, the Webb telescope is a joint project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency, It will be the largest space-based telescope ever built. For background on the telescope’s composite backplane design, see “Composites stabilize space-based telescope” at right.