Ball Aerospace Designed and Built the Advanced Optical Technology and Lightweight Mirror System for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope

Ball Aerospace Designed and Built the Advanced Optical Technology and Lightweight Mirror System for NASA's James Webb Space Telescope

Ball Aerospace is celebrating today’s launch of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (Webb) from French Guiana. The Colorado-based company designed and built the advanced optical technology and lightweight mirror system that will enable Webb to detect light from the first stars and galaxies.

“It is truly an honor to be such an integral part of the next great space observatory,” said Dr. Makenzie Lystrup, vice president and general manager, Civil Space, Ball Aerospace. “Today’s launch is the culmination of a lot of hard work by a closely integrated team that spanned across multiple mission partners and NASA. We are tremendously eager to see the science the new observatory captures.”

Announced as the Next Generation Space Telescope in 1996, and renamed James Webb Space Telescope in 2002, the space science observatory represents the largest and most complex ever built. Once on orbit, Webb will capture faint light from the very first objects that illuminated the universe after the Big Bang.

To make this possible, Ball Aerospace worked with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and Northrop Grumman, the prime industry partner, to innovate the 25 square-meter (~269 square feet) mirror system consisting of 18 beryllium mirror segments working together as one mirror. It will be the largest mirror and the first segmented telescope ever deployed in space, operating at the extremely cold space temperature of -406⁰ F (30K) necessary for infrared imaging of distant stars and galaxies.

Ball also developed the cryogenic actuators mounted on each segment to control individual mirror positioning and curvature radius within one ten-thousandth the width of a human hair. To align the mirror segments, Ball also designed the 22 electronic flight control boxes to operate in a deep-freeze space environment to individually control each of the 132 actuators that keep the telescope segments properly aligned on orbit.

To innovate, validate and demonstrate technologies used to develop Webb’s pioneering optical system, Ball Aerospace drew on its in-depth experience with space hardware designed for all four of NASA’s Great Observatories (Hubble Space Telescope, Compton Gamma Ray Observatory, Chandra X-Ray Observatory and Spitzer Space Telescope).

Ball is also playing critical roles in other upcoming space observation missions. It is partnering with Goddard to develop the Wide Field Instrument for the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope and providing the spacecraft bus and telescope for the Spectro-Photometer for the History of the Universe, Epoch of Reionization and Ices Explorer (SPHEREx). Earlier this month, the Ball-built Imaging X-Ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) launched from Kennedy Space Center on its mission to uncover the inner workings of some of the most exotic astronomical objects in our universe, such as neutron stars and black holes.

Powered by endlessly curious people with an unwavering mission focus, Ball Aerospace pioneers discoveries that enable our customers to perform beyond expectation and protect what matters most. We create innovative space solutions, enable more accurate weather forecasts, drive insightful observations of our planet, deliver actionable data and intelligence, and ensure those who defend our freedom go forward bravely and return home safely.