On November 8, the Department of Aerospace Engineering hosted a special lecture about the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). This featured guest speakers from Northrop Grumman, the NASA-selected primary contractor for the development of the “premier new space observatory”.
When launched into space in the spring of 2019, the JWST will be the largest extra-terrestrial telescope ever created, able to observe deeper into the universe than other telescopes have ever before. Often described as a successor to the Hubble, the JWST is an engineering feat that has been years in the making, with numerous scientists and engineers working on the project for the last two decades and more.
The JWST project is headed by NASA, alongside partners the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency, with costs expected to eventually total around 10 billion USD.
Speakers Dr. Alberto Conti, astrophysicist and Innovation Manager, and Debbie Fitzgerald, Aerospace System Engineering Director, introduced the project and first opened a question and answer session to accommodate their highly interested but time-pressed audience. They were joined by the Northrop Grumman Director of Diversity and Inclusion, Herbert Sims, who then presented the keynote documentary film Into the Unknown.
The film, which presented the JWST in just over 30 minutes, was directed by award winner Nathaniel Kahn. It used snippets of talking heads, including a pronounced number of female scientists and engineers, exclusive and dynamic footage, high quality CGI, modest humor, and even Legos. Providing a swift but sweeping story from Galileo’s discoveries directly to the deep space revelations from the Hubble telescope legacy, the film revealed some of the phenomenal technicalities and potential coming from the construction of the JWST.
Questions from attendees included those pertaining to the materials of the sunshield, which must maintain a temperature difference between the two sides of approximately 600 K in order to provide an icy operating temperature of under 50 K for the sensitive infrared telescope. It was explained that the multi-layered shield is an aluminium-and-silicon-coated polyimide film, which, despite weighing very little by necessity, will unfold to 21.2 m by 14.2 m upon deployment.
Another query addressed the choice of orbit, which will be around the second Lagrangian point past the moon. Others sought information about the challenges faced in the lengthy preparation of the equipment for space flight. The speakers commented upon the high standard of questions from the KAIST student audience.
Ending on a note of discovery and excitement by showing Hubble’s wonderful images with the promise of much more to come from the JWST, Into the Unknown can be viewed at webbtelescope.org.