NASA Space Telescope Achieves Milestone

The Webb deep space telescope has gained manufacturing approval, putting it a step closer toward its mission to study the Big Bang's origins.
A NASA deep-space telescope set for launch in 2014 has passed its most significant test yet on its way to being fully approved for manufacturing, the space agency said this week.

The three major elements of NASA's James Webb Space Telescope have met all of the science and engineering requirements for its mission by passing the Mission Critical Design Review.

The telescope -- a collaboration among NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Canadian Space Agency -- is comprised of the integrated science instrument module, the optical telescope element, and the spacecraft itself, all of which must work seamlessly together.

Once completed, the telescope's mission is to detect the evolution of the universe by finding the first galaxies to form and connecting the Big Bang theory to the Milky Way galaxy, where Earth resides.

MCDR requires the telescope pass all previous design reviews. These include the integrated science instrument module review, completed in March 2009; the optical telescope element review, completed in October 2009; and the sunshield review, completed in January 2010.

Northrop Grumman is the firm leading the design and development of the Webb telescope, while NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center is managing the mission.

The design of the telescope has been in development for seven years and is expected to undergo another review in the next few months. It should be fully approved for manufacturing next year and completed for its final review and testing in 2012, NASA said.

The MCDR was a rigorous test that used complex modeling and analysis tools to emulate how the telescope would behave during launch and in space environments after all of its parts are integrated. Those models then had to be compared to prior test results from each of the observatory's components.

The test marks the first real approval of the telescope design and gives it the green light for manufacturing. However, parts of the telescope's hardware -- in particular its mirror elements -- already are being built by a variety of firms, including Ball Aerospace, Alliant Techsystems, and ITT.