Science & Technology

Folding Up the James Webb Telescope

A Badger prepares the powerful instrument for its journey into space.

NASA technicians work on the large yellow Webb telescope

NASA technicians prepare to move the Webb telescope into a clean room prior to launch. NASA/Desiree Stover

When NASA wanted to pack up the world’s most powerful telescope for delivery into space, it turned to a Badger. Wei-Di Cheng ’93 helped prepare the James Webb Space Telescope for its launch last Christmas — a journey that would take it about one million miles from Earth.

Webb’s revolutionary technology will explore every phase of cosmic history — from within our solar system to the most distant observable galaxies in the early universe. Cheng is a stress analyst at Northrop Grumman, and his job included working on the telescope’s forward and aft unitized pallet structures, the casing that contains its carefully folded sunshield.

The ultrathin sunshield, about the size of a tennis court, is essential to protect the telescope from the light and heat of the sun, Earth, and moon, allowing Webb’s instruments to cool down to the extremely low temperatures necessary to carry out its goals. Maintaining the sunshield’s shape as it unfolds into position involves a delicate process. Cheng played a key role in testing the unitized pallet structures to help ensure that the sunshield would successfully deploy in space.

“The unitized pallet structures are roughly three stories tall and made of a very thin and light composite material,” Cheng says. “At some points, the structure is about as thin as a few pieces of paper stacked together.”

Published in the Summer 2022 issue


No comments posted yet.

Post a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *