Northrop Grumman assembles NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope
A view of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope OTIS, being lowered on the SCE to become a fully assembled observatory at Northrop Grumman in Redondo Beach, California.
NASA/Chris Gunn

Northrop Grumman assembles NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope

Spacecraft element and optical telescope-science instrument are now one.

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September 9, 2019

At Northrop Grumman Corp. in Redondo Beach, California, 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 lb, spanning 131", OTIS had to align with six launch load interfaces. The stringent alignment requirements – to within 0.004", about the width of a human hair – meant engineers had to be meticulous. During the two-phase operation, OTIS was lifted and suspended in the air, then lowered to connect in tight quarters (up to approximately 0.2") between in-place hardware and parts of the OTIS.

“This milestone marks a major achievement for all of us at Northrop Grumman and NASA,” said Scott Willoughby, vice president and program manager, James Webb Space Telescope, Northrop Grumman. “Seeing the full observatory for the first time further reinforces our 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.”

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.