Broadcast 3905 Tony Whitman, Darin Noel

  • The Space Foundation Conference

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  • The Space Foundation Conference

The Space Foundation Conference

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Guests:  Darin Noel, Ton Whitman; Topics:  Engineering perspectives regarding the design and making of JWST and comparisons to other space telescopes.

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We welcomed both Darin Noel and Tom Whitman to the program to discuss many of the engineering aspects in the making and designing of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).   Please note that both Darin and Tony were part of the design and engineering team, not the science team so most of their comments are engineering specific to the JWST.  Our program was 92 minutes with a variety of listener calls and emails.

Referring to the above tags you will find a good short summary of topics discussed on the show.  For your convenience, I've repeated the tags here:

"Tags:  Darin Noel, Tony Whitman, James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), L3 Harris Technologies, NASA, Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope, optical telescope assembly, Cryogenic Optical Test Director on JSWT, Integrated Product Team Lead for JWST, JWST photogrammetry system, GPS, ESA, JWST engineering, working on a space telescope, pathfinder tests, engineering communication with science and astronomy leads, Hubble, 1-2 decades old technology, testing process,

changes due to using European launcher, environmental survival, testing in 1g for zero g, testing for temperature, 40 degree Kelvin, JWST mirror construction and design, learning from Hubble mirror errors, Roman telescope benefits from previous space telescopes, spectroscopy advances, infrared versus optical, optical coating in gold compared to silver, amateur telescope making, public discourse on cost overruns, moral due to public and congressional cost overrun attacks, calculating impact of cost overruns, telescope testing for thermal vacuum chamber, ITAR, technical advances from Hubble to Roman telescope."

There were discussion highlights for me.  I was especially interested in how they tested the telescope here on Earth for the deep space environment.  Our guests went into detail on the process, the temperatures used for the testing compared to the space environment, the testing tools such as the thermal vacuum chamber, the testing parameters, i.e. 40 degrees Kelvin and more.  Another part of the questioning that I found most interesting was the span of years it took to design, engineer and make, then launch the telescope.  As our guests said, much of the technology was 10-20 years old by the time it launched.  Still, the technology and the telescope are state of the art.  Think about you using a 20 year old smart phone or laptop or even using a 20 year old television.  I personally find this remarkable and wonder why our consumer products and tech are designed to be discarded almost at purchase time and outdated by the end of the year the item was purchased. 

Early in the program our guests were asked how they come to work on a project like JWST.  I asked if they were assigned the job, if they got to volunteer or how was it done.  Each guest responded to the question with a more general answer that it was both a volunteer and an assignment.  Lots depended on the skill set of an employee.  Note that neither worked on the telescope from the start to the finish.  Different parts of the project were carried out by different contractors so when L3 Harris finished their part, another contractor took over.  We talked about that transition which was also interesting to me.

Our guests were asked about the communications between the engineers and the science and astronomy teams.  There were such communication but listen to how our guests explained it.  Other questions dealt with the difference between optical and infrared telescopes, mirror lessons learned for JWST and the Roman telescope,  and their reaction to when they saw the first JWST pictures that all of us saw.  Do listen to their telling us about their reaction to seeing the first pictures.  You might be surprised by what you hear.  Other questions dealt with advances in instrumentation such as spectroscopy, mirror and lens coatings with either gold or silver and why, plus much more.  I urge you to listen to all of this discussion as it was full of new information, technical aspects of space telescope evolution and more.

Please post your comments/questions on the blog for this show.  You can reach our guests through me or the L3 Harris Technologies Company.




We talk JWST from two original design & engineering team members

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05 Aug 2022 Tony Whitman, Darin Noel
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  • The Space Foundation Conference

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