Northrop Grumman, ATK Complete Backbone of NASA's James Webb Space Telescope

 Northrop Grumman, ATK Complete Backbone of NASA's James Webb Space Telescope

PR Newswire

REDONDO BEACH, Calif., June 14, 2013

REDONDO BEACH, Calif., June 14, 2013 /PRNewswire/ --Northrop Grumman
Corporation (NYSE: NOC) and teammate ATK (NYSE: ATK) have completed
manufacturing of the backplane support frame (BSF) for NASA's James Webb Space
Telescope. Northrop Grumman is under contract to NASA's Goddard Space Flight
Center in Greenbelt, Md., for the design and development of the Webb
Telescope's optics, sunshield and spacecraft.


Photos accompanying this release are available at

When combined with the center section and wings, the BSF will form the primary
mirror backplane support structure (PMBSS). In March 2013, the backplane's two
wings were completed. The center section was completed in April 2012. The BSF
is now being integrated with the previously completed center section to form
the complete backplane.

The PMBSS is the stable platform that holds the telescope's beryllium mirrors,
instruments and other elements. It holds the 18-segment, 21-foot-diameter
primary mirror nearly motionless while the telescope is peering into deep
space. The backplane support frame is the backbone of the observatory, is the
primary load carrying structure for launch, and holds the science instruments.

"This is the largest optically stable cryostructure that has ever been built,"
said Gregory Young, Acquisition manager for Northrop Grumman. "With the
completion of the frame, the structural backbone of the observatory is now
ready for integration."

Measuring approximately 24 ft. tall by 19.5 ft. wide by more than 11 ft. deep
when fully deployed, and weighing only 2,180 lbs., the fully assembled primary
mirror backplane support structure will include the wing assemblies, the
center section and the BSF. This fully populated PMBSS will support the
mission payload and instruments weighing more than 7,300 lbs., or more than
300 percent its own weight.

The highly efficient PMBSS will also meet unprecedented thermal stability
requirements to minimize thermal distortion. While the telescope is operating
at a range of extremely cold temperatures, from -406 to -343 degrees
Fahrenheit, the backplane must not vary more than 38 nanometers (approximately
1/1,000 the diameter of a human hair). For reference, if the mirror were
enlarged to span from Los Angeles to New York City, the tolerance for error
would be less than 1 inch.

The BSF was designed and fabricated at ATK facilities in Magna, Utah. ATK
designed, engineered and constructed the more than 10,000 parts of the entire
PMBSS using lightweight graphite materials, state-of-the-art material sciences
and advanced fabrication techniques. The composite parts attach in many cases
to precision metallic fittings, made of materials such as invar and titanium
that provide interfaces with other elements of the observatory.

"It is truly inspiring to participate in ideas that lead to invention and
finally this fantastic reality of the PMBSS assembly," said Bob Hellekson,
ATK's Webb Telescope program manager. "It continues to be a privilege and an
honor for the ATK team to provide program hardware that is arguably the
largest and most advanced cryogenic structure ever built."

ATK has begun final integration of the BSF to the previously completed center
section. The newly assembled structure is on track to meet critical path
program milestones when it is delivered to Marshall Space Flight Center in
Huntsville, Ala. later this summer for the extreme cryogenic thermal testing.
The PMBSS will then undergo structural static testing at Northrop Grumman's
facilities in Redondo Beach, Calif. in early 2014 before NASA and Northrop
Grumman ready the observatory for its 2018 launch.

The James Webb Space Telescope is the world's next-generation space
observatory and successor to the Hubble Space Telescope. The most powerful
space telescope ever built, the Webb Telescope will observe the most distant
objects in the universe, provide images of the first galaxies formed and see
unexplored planets around distant stars. The Webb Telescope is a joint project
of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.

About ATK

ATK is an aerospace, defense and commercial products company with operations
in 21 states, Puerto Rico and internationally. News and information can be
found on the Internet at, on Facebook at, or
on Twitter @ATK.

About Northrop Grumman

Northrop Grumman is a leading global security company providing innovative
systems, products and solutions in unmanned systems, cyber, C4ISR, and
logistics and modernization to government and commercial customers worldwide.
Please visit for more information.

SOURCE Northrop Grumman Corporation

Contact: Christina Thompson, Northrop Grumman, 310-812-2375,; or Jennifer Bowman, ATK, 435-279-3159,
Press spacebar to pause and continue. Press esc to stop.