On Tuesday, April 11, Dr Jon Arenberg, ’83, MS ’85, PhD ’87, Chief Engineer, James Webb Space Telescope, Northrop Grumman, spoke to a group of alumni, faculty, and students at UCLA about the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), which he and his team at Northrop Grumman are designing and building for NASA. He guided the audience through the many technical challenges that the project has encountered and overcome; and the exciting challenges that still lie ahead as the telescope is prepared for launch and deployment.
JWST is a large infrared telescope with a 6.5-meter primary mirror, and will be launched on an Ariane 5 rocket from French Guiana in late 2018. As the premier space observatory of the next decade it will serve thousands of astronomers worldwide. The Webb telescope will study every phase in the history of our Universe, ranging from the first luminous objects after the Big Bang, to the formation of solar systems capable of supporting life on planets like Earth, to the evolution of our own Solar System.
Several innovative technologies have been developed for JWST. These include a primary mirror made of 18 separate segments that unfold and adjust to shape after launch. The mirrors are made of ultra-lightweight beryllium. JWST’s biggest feature is a tennis court sized five-layer sunshield that attenuates heat from the Sun and allows the telescope to reach its 45K operating temperature. The telescope’s four instruments – cameras and spectrometers – have detectors that are able to record extremely faint signals. One instrument (NIRSpec) has programmable microshutters, which enable observation up to 100 objects simultaneously. JWST also has a cryocooler for cooling the mid-infrared detectors of another instrument (MIRI) to a very cold 6 K, so they can detect longer wavelengths, up to ~29 µm.
Dr Arenberg is excited to have been a member of the JWST team since 2005; and his enthusiasm for the project was obvious to all who attended. We thank him for his inspiring and informative presentation.