HUNTSVILLE – After its historic launch in December, the James Webb Space Telescope completed one of the most complex deployments ever performed in space to position itself to take the most spectacular images ever taken of deep space.
When those first images were released last week to an awestruck nationworld, Huntsville-based NeXolve was also watching with great anticipation.
After years of research and development, NeXolve delivered the Sunshield Membrane Assembly, a tennis court-size, 5-layer thin polymer film structure that prevents the sun’s heat from reaching Webb’s telescope mirrors.
The film, each layer thinner than a human hair, is coated to reflect and redirect the sun’s heat away from the cameras and other instruments. Without this one-of-a-kind technology, NASA’s mission would not be possible.
The sunshield is proving to be extremely effective. Certainly, Webb is equipped with the most advanced tools ever assembled and NeXolve’s sunshield layers are part of that. The extreme temperatures it endures vary from approximately 230 degrees Fahrenheit on the sun side, to around minus-394 degrees Fahrenheit on the cold side facing the telescope.
This is the temperature needed to capture the detailed images and spectra used to explore the early universe, the evolution of galaxies through time, the lifecycle of stars, and other worlds. By keeping the instruments and mirrors extremely cold, the telescope’s cameras can see the spectra, or the faint infra-red light emitted by some of the oldest objects in the universe.
“Our Team at NeXolve has been celebrating each step in the complex deployment sequence and calibration required to prepare the telescope for its science mission,” said NeXolve President Jim Moore. “We are proud to have played an important role on the incredible international team assembled by NASA and Northrop Grumman to accomplish this mission.”
Designing, manufacturing, and testing a sunshield this large and lightweight required development of new technologies. NeXolve worked diligently with NASA, Northrop Grumman, ManTech International, and other partners to develop and implement the sunshield.
NeXolve has a history of working closely with NASA, the Department of the Defense and commercial companies, to manufacture and design aerospace products and high-performance polymer materials.