When it becomes the successor to the illustrious Hubble later this decade, the James Webb Space Telescope’s infrared eye will peer further into the edges of space (and time) than any telescope before it. But while the real thing is undergoing final construction at Northrop Grumman HQ, an exact 1:1 scale model has been touring the world, giving us a chance to get close to a realistic representation of an unconventional-looking spacecraft that will soon be the source of the most amazing images of the cosmos we’ve every seen.
We paid a visit to the JWST in Lower Manhattan’s Battery Park city. Take a look at our photo gallery to see more:
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A Big Mirror
The JWST has a 6.5-meter mirror and a five-layer sun shield as big as a tennis court. The mirror is almost six times larger than Hubble’s.
Five thin layers of insulation are stretched between the sun and the telescope, protecting it from solar IR interference. The thicker outer layers reflect energy back, while the layers closer to the instruments absorb what’s left, creating a temperature difference of hundreds of degrees from one side to the other.
Because of its large size, the hinged, hexagonal mirror assembly folds up like origami to fit inside the French Ariane 5 launch vehicle and is unfolded after the telescope is deployed.
On the other side of the sunshade is the spacecraft portion. Aside from a few minor modifications after its construction, the model matches exactly the craft that will fly in 2014, Northrop Grumman’s Deputy Telescope Manager Charlie Atkinson told me.
The JWST along with some Lower Manhattan skyscrapers for scale.
Mounted on the other side of the sunshade, solar panels will power the telescope, soaking up radiation over the course of a planned 10-year mission. Due to its distant L2 orbit one million miles from Earth, the telescope will not be serviceable once it’s launched.
The JWST display model, which was built entirely for promotional purposes, has traveled from the Paris Air Show to Ireland to events and public spaces across the US, Atkinson says.
Ask a Scientist
The telescope’s proud parents, engineers from Northrop Grumman, are on hand to answer questions.
And when you’re done ogling the model, you can attempt to build your own from Legos, using instructions prepared by a custom Lego builder in California. Lego: please make this an official, commercial kit. Thanks.