Time travel by Corning and the James Webb Space Telescope

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.

NASA technicians lifting the telescope and moving it into the clean room at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD. Image credit: NASA.

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.

The Hubble has led to some of the most amazing discoveries in space, and now the James Webb will too.
Jeff Santman
Hyperspectral Technology Lead










“Being part of this team is by far one of my fondest achievements here at Corning,” said Jeff Santman, hyperspectral technology lead and Distinguished Associate, Advanced Optics. “Understanding the amount of work that went into these telescopes and then seeing a successful launch gives me so much pride. The Hubble has led to some of the most amazing discoveries in space, and now the James Webb will too.”

Currently, the JWST sits at L2, a spot in space where the gravity of the sun and the Earth effectively cancel each other out, keeping it in place. NASA announced the first particles of light have made their way through the telescope, putting them one step closer to their ultimate goal of using this light to learn about the darkest areas of our yet-unknown universe.

Image credits: NASA.

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