Goddard Team Obtains the 'Unobtainium' for NASA's Next Space Observatory

Imagine building a car chassis without a blueprint or even a list of recommended construction materials. In a sense, that's precisely what a team of engineers at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., did when they designed a one-of-a-kind structure that is one of 9 key new technology systems of the Integrated Science Instrument Module (ISIM). Just as a chassis supports the engine and other components in a car, the ISIM will hold four highly sensitive instruments, electronics, and other shared instrument systems flying on the James Webb Space Telescope, NASA's next flagship observatory.

From scratch without past experience to help guide them the engineers designed the ISIM made of a never-before-manufactured composite material and proved through testing that it could withstand the super-cold temperatures it would encounter when the observatory reached its orbit 1.5-million kilometers (930,000 miles) from Earth. In fact, the ISIM structure survived temperatures that plunged as low as 27 Kelvin , colder than the surface of Pluto. "It is the first large, bonded composite spacecraft structure to be exposed to such a severe environment," said Jim Pontius, ISIM lead mechanical engineer.

The 26-day test was specifically carried out to test whether the car-sized structure contracted and distorted as predicted when it cooled from room temperature to the frigid very important since the science instruments must maintain a specific location on the structure to receive light gathered by the telescope's 6.5-meter (21.3-feet) primary mirror. If the structure shrunk or distorted in an unpredictable way due to the cold, the instruments no longer would be in position to gather data about everything from the first luminous glows following the big bang to the formation of star systems capable of supporting life.

No comments:

Post a Comment