James Webb Space Telescope gets its Near Infrared CameraNews
April 14, 2014
PALO ALTO, CA. Lockheed Martin engineers and experts at the University of Arizona deployed the primary imaging instrument for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) to NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. The new Near Infrared Camera, or NIRCam, is now integrated within the heart of the telescope, which is known as the Integrated Science Instrument Module (ISIM).
This completes integration of the suite of four instruments that combined will explore the mysteries of the deep universe upon launch in 2018. NIRCam will be the central imaging component of JWST.
A University of Arizona/Lockheed Martin team built, designed, and tested NIRCam at the Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Technology Center in Palo Alto, under the leadership of Principal Investigator Marcia Rieke, a Regents' Professor at the Arizona Department of Astronomy/Steward Observatory. Lockheed Martin handled the optical, mechanical, structural, thermal, and electronic precision mechanisms and the control software of NIRCam, while the advanced infrared detector arrays come from Teledyne Imaging Systems.
NIRCam, which is the telescope's prime camera, will enable it to look deeper into space and further back in time than any other instrument before. Via its 6.5-meter (21-foot) mirror, the JWST will enable observation of the most distant objects in the universe.
"The instrument operates out to wavelengths about ten times that of visible light, letting it search for the first galaxies," Rieke says. "It is the cosmic redshift that has moved the outputs of these ‘first light’ sources into the infrared where NIRCam operates. We will survey selected regions on the sky to find candidates; the other instruments on JWST can then probe these objects in detail to test if they really are that young. NIRCam can also peer through the clouds of gas and dust that hide the first stages when stars and planets are born and will provide insights into how planetary systems form and evolve around distant stars.
NIRCam is comprised of technology such as the infrared detector arrays themselves, a complex optical system based on lenses rather than the mirrors used in most infrared instruments, and devices to measure the optical performance of the JWST telescope and enable adjustments to keep it operating correctly.
Designated one of the NASA’s three highest mission priorities, the Webb telescope is a joint project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency. Once launched, JWST will then be operated as an observatory open by competitive proposal to astronomers across the globe. The mission is not only much larger than Hubble, but covers the longer-wavelength infrared spectral range as well.