How Real Satellites or Space Telescopes Come About
It takes years to bring a real large space telescope from basic concept to hardware reality. First, a scientist comes up with an idea to study some aspect of the Earth or the cosmos. The idea is discussed, reviewed and developed by committees of scientists. It is proposed to NASA, who makes decisions on what missions to go forth on, and which missions to pass on. If a mission is selected for study a timeline is created to develop the mission. One of the most difficult aspects of creating a new mission is convincing others to fund it. Once a mission is funded, the team of scientists and engineers "pitching" the mission can then investigate how it could come together.

Later, NASA usually selects a prime contractor to help design the telescope and other systems that will fly on the satellite. Northrop Grumman was selected to build components for the Webb telescope. The instruments, or cameras, on the telescope are selected as well, with teams of scientists to watch over the design. The design process usually includes a number of different designs, which are all tested to see which would yield the best result for the type of object the instrument would study. For example, various types of infrared cameras may be developed and tested, and the one that gives a scientist the best result, would be chosen to be built as a test unit.

Engineering test units, or ETUs are created before an actual instrument is built, so that engineers and scientists can make sure it would work properly. ETUs are a replica of the flight unit that can perform certain flight functions for testing purposes. ETUs are also used when engineers are practicing installation of an instrument into a satellite's mainframe or "bus." The outcome of the tests on ETUs may lead to a change in handling procedures of the actual flight instrument, but not a change in its flight construction. Once the ETUs test successful, then the actual instruments that will fly aboard a satellite or space telescope can be manufactured.

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