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16 May 2012: Engineering Challenges and Scientific Capabilities of the James Webb Space Telescope

by Communications Team on May 30, 2012  •   Print This Post Print This Post   •   

2012_05_16_Mather Speaking

Dr. Mather speaking at the May 2012 INCOSE Meeting

On 16 May 2012, the INCOSE Chesapeake Chapter was very fortunate to have a prestigious speaker for its monthly dinner meeting: Dr. John C. Mather, Nobel Laureate and Senior Astrophysicist at NASA Goddard. Dr. Mather drew a large crowd to the JHU APL auditorium to listen to his presentation on the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) and its associated capabilities and challenges. Prior to his lecture Dr. Mather graciously thanked Systems Engineers for realizing these types of wonderful modern instruments that help scientist like him do real science.

While discussing the telescope’s capabilities, many comparisons were made between the JWST and the Hubble Telescope, especially in regards to the technology advancements that allow the JWST to outperform its predecessor. While not explicitly identified, the systems engineering challenges associated with this project were very apparent. The requirements imposed on the system due to its deployment into a harsh space environment created unique design constraints and the need to operate at extreme temperatures. Additionally, in order to interface with the launch vehicle, the telescope must be launched in a “stowed” configuration due to its significant size. Once separated from the launch vehicle in space, JWST will begin to expand into its operational configuration while en route to its final location; approximately 1 million miles from Earth! In addition to these technical challenges, many lessons learned were gathered from the Hubble telescope and its operations over the last two decades.

Dr. Mather receives a token of appreciation from our Programs Director, Erik DeVito, in the form of an INCOSE-CC Caffeine Delivery System (CDS)


Dr. Mather and our Programs Director, Erik DeVito gives the Door Prize, "The Very First Light By John Boslough and John Mather" to the lucky winner.

With a system of this complexity and the inability to service the system once deployed, Integration and Test becomes paramount. All system requirements must be verified on the ground and a large test program, spanning multiple years, has been created to address that challenge. Test planning required some creativity in order to simulate the deep space environment where the telescope will operate. One such example is the use of a test chamber at Johnson Space Center previously used for testing associated with the Apollo missions.

The coming years will certainly continue to be an exciting and stressful time for NASA and its partners as they approach their 2018 launch date.

Dr. Mather’s discussed the JWST ability to look for new planets around stars; to look into far off Gas Clouds and to see well into our universe, perhaps to its very edge.  It’s a great adventure to study the stars, the very stuff we are made of.

Learn more by Downloading Dr. Mather’s presentation.

Original Announcement.

Enjoy the meeting slide show below.

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