James Webb Space Telescope 

Successor to Hubble 

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope will be the most powerful space telescope ever built, able to detect the light from the first galaxies ever formed and explore planets around distant stars. Webb will orbit 1 million miles (1.5 million km) from Earth. 

The world’s largest infrared telescope will study every phase of our universe's history, ranging from the first luminous glows after the Big Bang, to the formation of star systems capable of supporting life on planets like Earth, to the evolution of our own solar system. Webb will expand on the discoveries of the Hubble Space Telescope

Artist rendition of JWST
Artist rendition of the James Webb Space Telescope. Credit: NASA
Six Webb mirrors in testing
James Webb primary mirrors

What we’re doing 

Optical Mirror System Provider

Ball designed and built the advanced optical technology and lightweight mirror system that will enable Webb to look 13.5 billion years back in time. Measuring approximately 6.5 meters (21.3 ft.), the primary mirror is comprised of 18 hexagonal mirror segments, each approximately 1.3 meters (4.2 ft.) wide. A set of cryogenic actuators is mounted on each segment to control individual mirror positioning and curvature radius within one ten-thousandth the width of a human hair. 

In September 2012, we began the incremental process of shipping the finished mirrors to NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. By December 2013, all 18 mirror segments had arrived for integration. 

We also designed Webb’s mirror control electronics to operate in a deep-freeze cryogenic space environment.  These 22 one-of-a kind cryogenic electronic flight boxes are responsible for aligning the mirror segments on orbit so that they function as one mirror. Each box operates between -405.6 degrees F. (30K) and room temperature to multiplex signals from the warm control electronics to one mirror actuator at a time. 

To develop, validate and demonstrate technologies used to develop Webb’s pioneering optical system, we drew on our in-depth experience with space hardware designed for all four of NASA’s Great Observatories: Hubble Space Telescope, Compton Gamma Ray Observatory, Chandra X-Ray Observatory and Spitzer Space Telescope.

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Find out how our optical expertise can help you meet your mission goals.