At Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE: NOC) in Redondo Beach, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope Spacecraft Element (SCE) and Optical Telescope Element/Integrated Science Instrument Module (OTIS) are now one — both halves of the telescope (SCE and OTIS) have been successfully assembled.
The Northrop Grumman and NASA team started preparations for the milestone seven years ago, when engineers began the design and build of the flight hardware and tools needed to join the two halves. With the base composite structures for the SCE and OTIS, engineers used an interface transfer tool to physically match the connection interfaces, preparing them for this very moment. At roughly 8,000 pounds, spanning 131 inches, OTIS had to align with six launch load interfaces. This resulted in stringent alignment requirements to within .004 inches, about the width of a human hair, and meant engineers had to be meticulous. Over the two phase operation, OTIS was lifted and suspended in the air, then lowered to connect in tight quarters (up to approximately 0.2 inches) between in-place hardware and parts of the OTIS.
Earlier this year, Webb’s SCE completed its final environmental tests in preparation for the milestone. To date, both halves have undergone environmental testing separately. The fully assembled observatory will complete the next steps of the integration process in the coming months in preparation for acoustic and vibration environmental testing next year.
The James Webb Space Telescope will be the world’s premier space science observatory when it launches in 2021. Webb will solve mysteries in our solar system, look beyond to distant worlds around other stars, and probe the mysterious structures and origins of our universe and our place in it. Webb is an international program led by NASA with its partners, ESA (European Space Agency) and the Canadian Space Agency.
Scott Willoughby, VP and Program Manager, James Webb Space Telescope, Northrop Grumman, said this milestone marks a major achievement for all at Northrop Grumman and NASA. Seeing the full observatory for the first time further reinforces the company's commitment to mission success. There is still more work to be done, but it is a great feeling seeing something that was once a concept, become reality.