Ruag technology boosts Webb space telescope

Ruag technology boosts Webb space telescope

By Nick Flaherty

The long awaited James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is the largest and most powerful space telescope ever built and is finally due for launch on 22nd December. The satellite has been developed under the leadership of NASA in cooperation with the European and the Canadian Space agencies over the last 25 years.

Over 300 universities, organizations, and companies from 29 US states and 14 countries have worke don the telescope, including RUAG Space in Switzerland.

“Like no other mission, Webb demonstrates what the international space community is capable of. The revolutionary technology will study every phase of cosmic history – from our solar system to the most distant observable galaxies in the early universe. One hundred times more powerful than its predecessor, Hubble, the JWST will change the way we see our universe. We are proud to be part of this global collaborative effort that will help us understand ourselves, our solar system, and the history of our universe better than ever before,” said André Wall, CEO of Ruag International.

“In addition to the payload fairing, the computer and the separation system for the Ariane 5 launcher, we had the honor of supplying the antenna for data transmission to Earth, the ground equipment and three mechanisms for two of the telescope’s four scientific instruments,” he said.

The communication antenna system that will transmit collected data from the telescope to Earth was developed and produced by Ruag Space in Gothenburg, Sweden. The system consists of two antennas, one of which is a 0.6 m diameter reflector made of carbon fibre composite that provides low weight and high precision at extreme temperatures. The second antenna is a small cup type antenna that provides a backup function in another frequency band.

“All of the amazing science data from the telescope will pass through our antennas. Just imagine, for instance, if this turns out to be the missing puzzle piece to help us better understand dark matter,” said Anders Linder, head of Ruag Space’s global Satellites business unit.

RUAG Space was also responsible for three crucial mechanisms for two of the telescope’s four scientific instruments. Two high-precision mechanisms for the telescope’s “super eye” called NIRSpec were developed, built and tested by Ruag Space’s site in Vienna, Austria.

This includes the mechanical support structures and special ball bearings of the two filter systems referred to as the instrument’s Filter Wheel Assembly. The 200kg “super eye” – one of the two European contributions to the mission – can detect faintest infrared radiation from the most distant galaxies. Designed to observe 100 objects simultaneously, the NIRSpec will be the first spectrograph in space that has this remarkable multi-object capability.

The second European instrument is called “MIRI” (Mid Infrared Range Instrument) and will support all four of JWST’s science themes. The instrument’s Contamination Control Cover was developed by Ruag Space in Zurich, Switzerland, and delivered in 2008. It will protect MIRI against external contamination during the cooldown phase of the tests and after the launch. Additionally, this cryo-mechanism acts as an optical shutter for the instrument to allow on-board calibration and to protect the detectors against bright objects. MIRI will help to see the first generations of galaxies born after the Big Bang.

During assembly and before the JWST finally launches on board an Ariane 5 rocket, a rotating and tilting device developed and produced by Ruag Space in Vienna, enables engineers to work on the telescope from all sides. Depending on the requirements, the trolley moves the telescope to a vertical or horizontal position.

The top of the Ariane 5 rocket is made of Ruag Space’s payload fairing. It protects the JWST during liftoff and its journey through the atmosphere. The 17-meter-high structure was produced at the company’s site in Emmen, Switzerland. The Webb’s sunshield – as big as a tennis court – was specially engineered to fold up and fit within the 5.4-meter diameter fairing.

“Our fairing was custom-made for this precious payload,” said Holger Wentscher, who heads Ruag Space’s Launchers business unit. “New hardware ensures that venting ports around the base of the fairing remain fully open. This will minimize the shock of depressurization when the fairing is jettisoned away from the launch vehicle.”

On its way into space, the launch vehicle is controlled by a Ruag Space on-board computer. Once the payload reaches a certain height, the two halves of the payload fairing are separated and jettisoned from the launch vehicle. The corresponding separation system was manufactured by RUAG Space in Linköping, Sweden. At a later stage, this separation system (payload adapter) allows the JWST to be separated from the launch vehicle.

Unlike its predecessor Hubble, which observes the universe from a height of a few hundred kilometers above the Earth, the JWST will orbit around a point 1.5m km from the Earth. This will keep the spacecraft in the same relative position to the Sun and the Earth to keep the telescope’s temperature very low behind its large solar shield. This is necessary for the Webb’s sensitive instruments to function properly.

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