James Webb Space Telescope: From cleanroom to cosmos

13-Jul-2022

Mesmerising new images have been sent back from the James Webb telescope, reflecting decades of hard work from NASA and the cleanroom sector

The Webb Telescope Journey to Space Part 1: Packed and Transported to the Ship. Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

The dawn of a new era in astronomy is here as the world gets its first look at the full capabilities of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, a partnership with ESA (European Space Agency) and CSA (Canadian Space Agency).

“Today, we present humanity with a groundbreaking new view of the cosmos from the James Webb Space Telescope – a view the world has never seen before,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “These images, including the deepest infrared view of our universe that has ever been taken, show us how Webb will help to uncover the answers to questions we don’t even yet know to ask; questions that will help us better understand our universe and humanity’s place within it.

These images are a result of decades of hard work from NASA and those providing their services. The full set of the telescope’s first full-color images and spectroscopic data, which uncover a collection of cosmic features elusive until now, are now available to be viewed online.

This landscape of “mountains” and “valleys” speckled with glittering stars is actually the edge of a nearby, young, star-forming region called NGC 3324 in the Carina Nebula. Captured in infrared light by NASA’s new James Webb Space Telescope, this image reveals for the first time previously invisible areas of star birth.

Building James Webb

The James Webb telescope was built inside a cleanroom and though originally budgeted to cost $500m, it eventually was launched at a price of $10bn. The build required highly specific contamination control to avoid damaging vulnerable components, with each operating spending about 15 mins to decontaminate themselves before entering the cleanroom. Aside from the NASA cleanroom building themselves, the daily operations of the James Webb telescope used an exhaustive list of consumables, such as cleanroom clothing, tacky mats and room monitoring supplies.

Cleanroom technology was used in so many obvious ways during the telescope's construction, but a not so usual way was the use of an "In-Plant Transporter". On the outside, this looks to be a giant silver box, but is in fact a mobile cleanroom used for transporting the precious cargo.

The “In-Plant Transporter”

The mobile cleanroom is, essentially, a giant sealed bag that is purged with clean, dry air injected from pressurised bottles though a flexible tube. A small leak is included in the design so that the container can maintain positive pressure by releasing clean air while blocking air inflow. This same idea is applied to clean tents and cleanrooms in buildings, which is evident when we open a door on a cleanroom and positive pressure inside the clean room forces air out in a gust and prevents dirty air from flowing in.

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“This is a singular and historic moment,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “It took decades of drive and perseverance to get us here, and I am immensely proud of the Webb team. These first images show us how much we can accomplish when we come together behind a shared goal, to solve the cosmic mysteries that connect us all. It’s a stunning glimpse of the insights yet to come.”

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