The five sunshield layers responsible for protecting the optics and instruments of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope are now fully installed. Northrop Grumman Corporation, which designed the Webb telescope’s optics, spacecraft bus, and sunshield for NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, integrated the final flight layers into the sunshield subsystem.
Designed by Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems in Redondo Beach, California, the sunshield layers work together to reduce the temperatures between the hot and cold sides of the observatory by approximately 570 degrees Fahrenheit/299 degrees Celsius. Each successive layer of the sunshield, which is made of Kapton, is cooler than the one below.
«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».
«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 Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
The Webb telescope’s sunshield will prevent the background heat from the Sun, Earth and Moon from interfering with the telescope’s infrared sensors. The five sunshield membrane layers that were manufactured by the NeXolve Corporation in Huntsville, Alabama, are each as thin as a human hair. The sunshield, along with the rest of the spacecraft, will fold origami-style into an Ariane 5 rocket.
The Webb telescope is the world’s next-generation space observatory and successor to the Hubble Space Telescope. The most powerful space telescope ever built, the Webb Telescope will observe distant objects in the universe, provide images of the first galaxies formed and see unexplored planets around distant stars. The Webb Telescope is a joint project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.
Supersonic passenger airplanes are another step closer to reality as NASA and Lockheed Martin begin the first high-speed wind tunnel tests for the Quiet Supersonic Technology (QueSST) X-plane preliminary design at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland.
The agency is testing a nine percent scale model of Lockheed Martin’s X-plane design in Glenn’s 8’ × 6’ Supersonic Wind Tunnel. During the next eight weeks, engineers will expose the model to wind speeds ranging from approximately 150 to 950 mph/241 to 1,529 km/h (Mach 0.3 to Mach 1.6) to understand the aerodynamics of the X-plane design as well as aspects of the propulsion system. NASA expects the QueSST X-plane to pave the way for supersonic flight over land in the not too distant future.
«We’ll be measuring the lift, drag and side forces on the model at different angles to verify that it performs as expected», said aerospace engineer Ray Castner, who leads propulsion testing for NASA’s QueSST effort. «We also want make sure the air flows smoothly into the engine under all operating conditions».
The Glenn wind tunnel is uniquely suited for the test because of its size and ability to create a wide range of wind speeds.
«We need to see how the design performs from just after takeoff, up to cruising at supersonic speed, back to the start of the landing approach», said David Stark, the facility manager. «The 8’ × 6’ supersonic wind tunnel allows us to test that sweet spot range of speeds all in one wind tunnel».
Recent research has shown it is possible for a supersonic airplane to be shaped in such a way that the shock waves it forms when flying faster than the speed of sound can generate a sound at ground level so quiet it will hardly will be noticed by the public, if at all.
«Our unique aircraft design is shaped to separate the shocks and expansions associated with supersonic flight, dramatically reducing the aircraft’s loudness», said Peter Iosifidis, QueSST program manager at Lockheed Martin Skunk Works. «Our design reduces the airplane’s noise signature to more of a ‘heartbeat’ instead of the traditional sonic boom that’s associated with current supersonic aircraft in flight today».
According to Dave Richwine, NASA’s QueSST preliminary design project manager, «This test is an important step along the path to the development of an X-plane that will be a key capability for the collection of community response data required to change the rules for supersonic overland flight».
NASA awarded Lockheed Martin a contract in February 2016 for the preliminary design of a supersonic X-plane flight demonstrator. This design phase has matured the details of the aircraft shape, performance and flight systems. Wind tunnel testing and analysis is expected to continue until mid-2017. Assuming funding is approved, the agency expects to compete and award another contract for the final design, fabrication, and testing of the low-boom flight demonstration aircraft.
The QueSST design is one of a series of X-planes envisioned in NASA’s New Aviation Horizons (NAH) initiative, which aims to reduce fuel use, emissions and noise through innovations in aircraft design that depart from the conventional tube-and-wing aircraft shape. The design and build phases for the NAH aircraft will be staggered over several years with the low boom flight demonstrator starting its flight campaign around 2020, with other NAH X-planes following in subsequent years, depending on funding.
Raytheon completed factory acceptance testing of the flight operations system for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). With seven times the light-collecting power of its predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope, this next-generation telescope will gather data and images of dust clouds, stars and galaxies deeper into space.
Over 800 requirements were successfully verified on the JWST ground control system during the testing conducted at Raytheon’s Aurora, Colorado, facility, bringing NASA’s next space observatory one step closer to the scheduled 2018 launch.
«The JWST flight operations system is our latest generation of mission management and command and control capabilities for satellite operations», said Matt Gilligan, vice president of Raytheon Navigation and Environmental Solutions. «Our ground control system will download data from space and fly the telescope as it penetrates through cosmic dust to unlock the universe’s secrets like never before».
JWST takes observations in the infrared spectrum to penetrate cosmic dust to reveal the universe’s first galaxies, while observing newly forming planetary systems. JWST is expected to make observations for five years, will carry enough fuel for 10 years, and is designed to withstand impacts of space debris as it orbits far beyond the Earth’s Moon.
Raytheon installed the ground control system for JWST on the campus of the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, under contract to the Space Telescope Science Institute.
Proposed Launch Date
JWST will be launched in October 2018
Ariane 5 ECA
5 – 10 years
Total payload mass
Approximately 6,200 kg/13,669 lbs, including observatory, on-orbit consumables and launch vehicle adaptor
Diameter of primary Mirror
~6.5 m/21.3 feet
Clear aperture of primary Mirror
25 m2/269 square feet
Primary mirror material
beryllium coated with gold
Mass of primary mirror
705 kg/1,554 lbs
Mass of a single primary mirror segment
20.1 kg/44.3 lbs for a single beryllium mirror, 39.48 kg/87 lbs for one entire Primary Mirror Segment Assembly (PMSA)
131.4 m/431.1 feet
Number of primary mirror segments
0.6 – 28.5 microns
Size of sun shield
21.197 × 14.162 m/69.5 × 46.5 feet
1.5 million km from Earth orbiting the second Lagrange point
under 50 K/-370 °F
Thickness of gold coating = 100 × 10-9 meters (1000 angstroms). Surface area = 25 m2. Using these numbers plus the density of gold at room temperature (19.3 g/cm3), the coating is calculated to use 48.25 g of gold, about equal to a golf ball (A golf ball has a mass of 45.9 grams)
Mid-January 2017 Airbus Defence and Space delivered to NASA a propulsion test module for the Orion programme. The Propulsion Qualification Test Model (PQM) will be used to check that the Orion European Service Module (ESM) spacecraft’s propulsion subsystem functions correctly.
On behalf of the European Space Agency, Airbus Defence and Space is prime contractor for the ESM, a key element of NASA’s next generation Orion spacecraft.
Although the PQM will never see space, this is an important step in the development of the Orion programme. Complex systems for human spaceflight must first be tested and qualified on Earth before being used as flight hardware in space. The engineers want to determine how the system behaves in different environments, to ensure that it functions properly.
The test module is travelling via Bremerhaven and Houston/USA to its final destination at NASA’s White Sands Test Facility (WSTF) near Las Cruces in New Mexico/USA. Arrival is expected mid-February. The tests will take place later in the year at WSTF for the qualification of Orion ESM’s propulsion subsystem.
Northrop Grumman Corporation’s delivery of the fully integrated Optical Telescope Element (OTE) for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope marks another major milestone toward the October 2018 launch of the largest telescope ever built for space.
Northrop Grumman delivered the OTE in March to NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Northrop Grumman is under contract to Goddard and leads the industry team that designs and develops the Webb Telescope, its sunshield and spacecraft. Northrop Grumman has completed the integration, testing and delivery of the telescope.
The Webb telescope’s 18 hexagonal gold coated beryllium mirrors are supported by the telescope structure. The OTE hardware is made of the most precise graphite composite material system ever created, and contributes to the Webb Telescope’s ability to provide an unprecedented exploratory view into the formation of the first stars and galaxies formed over 13.5 billion years ago.
The precision manufacturing and integration of the 21.5-foot/6.5-meter telescope structure allow it to withstand the pressure and weight of the launch loads when stowed inside the 15-foot/4.6-meter-diameter fairing of the Ariane 5 rocket. The cutting-edge design and transformer like capabilities of the telescope structure allow it to fold-up and fit inside the launch vehicle, and then deploy once the Webb telescope reaches its ultimate destination, one million miles away from earth. Furthermore, throughout travel and deployment, the telescope simultaneously maintains its dimensional stability while also operating at cryogenic or extremely cold temperatures, approximately 400 degrees below zero Fahrenheit/240 degrees below zero Celsius. The telescope is the world’s first deployable structure of this size and dimensional stability ever designed and built.
«The significant milestone of completing and delivering the OTE to NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, marks the completion of the telescope, and attests to the commitment of our hardworking team», said Scott Texter, telescope manager, Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems. «The telescope structure is one of the four main elements of this revolutionary observatory. The other elements include: the spacecraft, sunshield and the Integrated Science Instrument Module (ISIM), the latter of which is also complete. All of the elements require a collaborative team effort. We are all committed to the cause and excited about the upcoming phases of development as we prepare for launch in October 2018».
The next step in the progress of the telescope structure includes its integration with the ISIM to combine the OTE and ISIM, referred to as the OTIS. The OTIS will undergo vibration and acoustic testing by the end of this year, and then travel to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, to undergo optical testing at vacuum and operational cryogenic temperatures, around 40 kelvin/233 degrees below zero Celsius. The OTIS will be delivered to Northrop Grumman’s Space Park facility in Redondo Beach, towards the end of 2017, where it will be integrated with the sunshield and spacecraft.
The James Webb Space Telescope is the world’s next-generation space observatory and successor to the Hubble Space Telescope. The most powerful space telescope ever built, the Webb Telescope will observe the most distant objects in the universe, provide images of the first galaxies formed and see unexplored planets around distant stars. The Webb Telescope is a joint project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.
The Lockheed Martin and NASA Orion team has successfully proof-pressure tested the Orion spacecraft’s Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) crew module. The crew module is the living quarters for astronauts and the backbone for many of Orion’s systems such as propulsion, avionics and parachutes.
In order to certify the structural integrity of the crew module it was outfitted with approximately 850 instruments and subjected to 1.25 times the maximum pressure the capsule is expected to experience during its deep space missions. That means about 20 pounds per square inch/137,895 pascals of pressure was distributed over the entire inner surface of the spacecraft trying to burst it from within. As a next step, the team will use phased array technology to inspect all of the spacecraft’s welds in order to ensure there are no defects.
Once the primary structure of the crew module has been verified, the team will begin the installation of secondary structures such as tubes, tanks and thrusters. Once those pieces are in place, the crew module will be moved into the clean room and the propulsion and environmental control and life support systems will be installed.
«Our experience building and flying Exploration Flight Test-1 has allowed us to improve the build and test process for the EM-1 crew module», said Mike Hawes, Lockheed Martin Orion vice president and program manager. «Across the program we are establishing efficiencies that will decrease the production time and cost of future Orion spacecraft».
During EM-1 Orion will be launched atop NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) for the first time. The test flight will send Orion into lunar distant retrograde orbit – a wide orbit around the moon that is farther from Earth than any human-rated spacecraft has ever traveled. The mission will last about three weeks and will certify the design and safety of Orion and SLS for future human-rated exploration missions.
Lockheed Martin and NASA have completed the majority of Orion’s Critical Design Review (CDR), which means the spacecraft’s design is mature enough to move into full-scale fabrication, assembly, integration and test of the vehicle. It also means that the program is on track to complete the spacecraft’s development to meet NASA’s Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) performance requirements. The complete Orion EM-1 CDR process will conclude after the European Service Module CDR and a presentation to the NASA Agency Program Management Council in the spring.
Orion’s CDR kicked off in August of this year. The review focused on the EM-1 design as well as additional common elements that will be included on the Exploration Mission-2 (EM-2) spacecraft. These elements include the structure, pyrotechnics, Launch Abort System, software, guidance, navigation and control, and many others.
Although the EM-1 vehicle is designed to accommodate all the necessary elements for human exploration of deep space, systems unique to the EM-2 mission, such as crew displays and the Environmental Control and Life Support System, will be evaluated at a later EM-2 CDR.
«The vast majority of Orion’s design is over, and now we will only change things when new requirements come into play», said Michael Hawes, Lockheed Martin Orion vice president and program manager. «Considering the incredible complexity of this spacecraft, the team is very proud to have successfully completed the design review and is looking forward to seeing it fly».
In early 2016, Orion’s crew module pressure vessel will be shipped to the Operations and Checkout Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. There it will undergo final assembly, integration and testing in order to prepare for EM-1 when Orion is launched atop NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) for the first time. The test flight will send Orion into lunar distant retrograde orbit – a wide orbit around the moon that is farther from Earth than any human-rated spacecraft has ever traveled. The mission will last more than 20 days and will help certify the design and safety of Orion and SLS for human-rated exploration missions.
The solid rocket booster that will propel NASA’s skyscraper-size Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and its Orion spacecraft on deep space missions in the coming years took a huge step forward in its development on March 11, 2015, unleashing its fury on a barren mountainside at Orbital ATK’s test stand in Promontory, Utah, for the Qualification Motor-1 test fire (QM-1). The colossal 154-foot-long (47-meter-long) booster, the largest of its kind in the world, ignited to verify its performance at the highest end of the booster has accepted propellant temperature range, 90 degrees. That’s the temperature the SLS can expect to encounter on a regular basis at its Florida launch site on Kennedy Space Center (KSC) Launch Complex 39B, and this week NASA and Orbital ATK released initial findings and data from the QM-1 test fire. Detailed inspections of the disassembled booster will take another several months.
«Having analyzed the data from QM-1 for a little more than a month, we can now confirm the test was a resounding success», said Charlie Precourt, Vice President and General Manager of Orbital ATK’s Propulsion Systems Division, and four-time space shuttle astronaut. «These test results, along with the many other milestones being achieved across the program, show SLS is on track to preserve our nation’s leadership in space exploration».
It took only a second for the booster to reach 3.6 million pounds of thrust (equivalent to 22 million horsepower/16,405 MW), burning through 5.5 tons of propellant per second, at 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit, for just over two minutes – exactly as it will when it launches the SLS. More than 500 instrumentation channels were used to help evaluate over 100 defined test objectives, and newly designed avionics hardware and equipment to control the motor helped provide improved test monitoring capability.
According to Mike Killian, AmericaSpace reporter, the test also demonstrated the booster’s ability to meet applicable ballistic performance requirements, such as thrust and pressure. Other objectives included data gathering on vital motor upgrades, such as the new internal motor insulation and liner and an improved nozzle design. «Current data show the nozzle and insulation performed as expected, and ballistics performance parameters met allowable requirements», noted Orbital ATK in their report. «Additionally, the thrust vector control and avionics system provided the required command and control of the motor nozzle position».
The five-segment Solid Rocket Booster has been in development for years, having been initially designed to launch NASA’s Ares rockets for the agency’s cancelled Constellation program. The booster is similar to the four-segment Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs) that helped launch NASA’s now retired space shuttle fleet, but it is even larger and incorporates several upgrades and improvements. Now, after a lengthy investigation and trouble-shooting effort to determine root causes and corrective actions for the existence of small voids previously discovered prior to QM-1 between the propellant and outer casing of the booster’s aft segment, Orbital ATK is back on track with the booster’s development and already constructing the hardware for a second test fire in spring 2016 (QM-2).
A cold-temperature test, at a target of 40 degrees Fahrenheit, the low end of the propellant temperature range, is planned for QM-2 before the hardware testing to support qualification of the boosters for flight will be complete, at which point Orbital ATK will then be ready to proceed toward the first flight of SLS, an uncrewed flight to validate the entire integrated system, currently scheduled to fly on the Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) in late 2018.
With QM-1 there have now been four fully developed, five-segment SRBs fired up on Orbital ATK’s Promontory, Utah, T-97 test stand since 2009, with the most recent prior to QM-1 having been conducted in 2011, and all performed fine. The first three tests, known as the Development Motor test series (DM-1, DM-2, and DM-3), helped engineers measure the new SRB’s performance at low temperature, verify design requirements of new materials in the motor joints, and gather performance data about upgrades made to the booster since the space shuttle program.
The five-segment SLS boosters will burn for the same amount of time as the old shuttle boosters – two minutes – but they will provide 20 percent more power, while also providing more than 75 percent of the thrust needed for the rocket to escape the gravitational pull of the Earth.
«Ground tests are very important – we strongly believe in testing before flight to ensure lessons-learned occur on the ground and not during a mission», added Precourt. «With each test we have learned things that enable us to modify the configuration to best meet the needs for the upcoming first flight».
Although the boosters themselves will provide 75 percent of the power needed to break Earth’s hold, the SLS will still employ four engines of its own – former (upgraded) liquid-fueled space shuttle RS-25 engines – which are currently at NASA’s Stennis Space Center preparing for their own series of tests, the first of which occurred earlier this year. A second RS-25 test fire is currently scheduled for May or June this year.
The SLS program also kicked off its Critical Design Review (CDR) this week at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, which demonstrates that the SLS design meets all system requirements with acceptable risk, and accomplishes that within cost and schedule constraints. The CDR proves that the rocket should continue with full-scale production, assembly, integration, and testing, and that the program is ready to begin the next major review covering design certification. The SLS CDR is expected to be completed by late July.