Moving forward by looking back – and revealing distant secrets of the universe.
Picture a Transformer-like object launching into the depths of space and unfolding into a large telescope that will capture infrared light. Now imagine being able to use that light to view the first stars and galaxies to ever exist – the ones created by the Big Bang that led to the evolution of Earth and our solar system – and finding clues about whether life exists on these far away exoplanets.
What was once just an idea is now reality with the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), and a team of Corning engineers helped make this possible.
Though it recently launched on Christmas Day in 2021, the JWST took decades of work. Corning’s involvement began in the early 2000s, when the Keene, New Hampshire, team began co-developing with the Canadian Space Agency, then manufacturing three telescopes used in two of the JWST imaging instruments: the Fine Guidance Sensor (FGS) and Near Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph (NIRI-SS). These telescopes will now help astronomers determine the chemical makeup of a distant object (NIRI-SS), offering clues to its identity and age, as well as point and align the telescope during operation.
Corning has worked on several celestial projects before, including the Hubble Telescope and New Horizons Pluto Probe, but the JWST was particularly more challenging. Unlike the Hubble, this telescope will not be in Earth’s orbit and, therefore, will not be serviced by the International Space Station. Instead, it will orbit the sun 1 million miles away from Earth, making it too far for repair should anything go wrong. It will also operate in extreme-cold conditions. A large amount of testing was done, and many precautions were taken prior to launch to ensure Corning’s products will work as intended.