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Contractor Selected to Chill Instrument for JWST Mission
NASA recently selected Northrop Grumman Space Technologies of Redondo Beach, Calif. to develop a super-frigid mechanical helium cryocooler for the Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) on the James Webb Space Telescope.

The award concludes a five-year development program which yielded ground-breaking advances in cryocooler technology. “This selection marks a major milestone for the mission,” said James Webb project manager Phil Sabelhaus. “We now have all of our major industrial partners under contract.”

A large sunshield will super cool the observatory to just 40 Kelvin, which is minus 388 degrees Fahrenheit. However, the MIRI detectors will need to operate at even colder temperatures. That’s where the cryocooler takes over, absorbing heat from the instrument, enabling the detector temperature to drop to a mere six degrees above absolute zero. Operating at this chilly temperature will allow the MIRI to detect room temperature heat emitted by stars, galaxies, and other objects in deep space.

MIRI will achieve nearly a hundred-fold increase in sensitivity over the current infrared observing champion – the Spitzer Space Telescope. Scientists using MIRI will be able to study how galaxies give birth to stars, how planets formed, and how planets evolved to create the conditions for life.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, Calif., will develop the instrument, along with a European consortium. MIRI is scheduled for delivery to NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., in 2010 where it will be installed into the James Webb Integrated Science Instrument Module, which is one of three major elements that make up the observatory’s flight system. The two other elements are the Optical Telescope Element and the Space Support Module.

Goddard manages the James Webb Space Telescope project for NASA. Launch is currently scheduled for 2013.

For more information about the JWST, visit the following Web site:

Pam Sullivan
Susan Hendrix
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center