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New NASA Time-lapse Shows NASA’s Webb Telescope Primary Mirror’s Complete Assembly

NASA’s latest time-lapse video shows the James Webb Space Telescope‘s primary mirror’s full assembly from start to finish. The video, which covers almost three months of work has been sped up to run just over a minute to cover this meticulous labor-intensive procedure.

Using a robotic arm reminiscent of a claw machine, the team meticulously installed all of Webb’s primary mirror segments onto the telescope structure.

This time-lapse shows the assembly of the primary mirror of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope. Assembly was completed on February 3, 2016.
Credits: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

“Installing the primary mirror segments onto the telescope structure was an amazing team effort amongst incredibly talented engineers and technicians and one highly reliable robot,” said Lee Feinberg, optical telescope element manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “Building the primary mirror is a key milestone in the development of any telescope and this is especially the case for Webb.”

Each of the hexagonal-shaped mirror segments measures just over 4.2 feet (1.3 meters) across — about the size of a coffee table — and weighs approximately 88 pounds (40 kilograms). Once in space and fully deployed, the 18 primary mirror segments will work together as one large 21.3-foot diameter (6.5-meter) mirror.

The James Webb Space Telescope team completed this significant milestone, but continues to work on other key steps to build and test this tennis-court sized space telescope.

“Between now and early 2017 will be the most significant year to date in the integration and test of Webb,” said Bill Ochs, James Webb Space Telescope project manager. “Each of the four major elements, the telescope, science instrument package, spacecraft bus, and sunshield, will be delivered and will be integrated into the two major pieces which make up the observatory.”

Photographer Chris Gunn and Producer Michael McClare, both from NASA Goddard collaborated to produce the video. They captured 141,639 images for the time-lapse at a rate of one image taken every 30 seconds between November 11, 2015 and February 1, 2016 – 83 days total.  

“Months before the mirror installation began, I looked for the perfect time-lapse camera placement, one that would give viewers an unprecedented look at the mirror integration of the space telescope,” Gunn said. “When I decided that the best place to mount the camera would be on the ‘over deployment fixture’ directly above telescope structure I expected the mirror integration team to reject the proposal. After they verified the safety of our proposed camera set-up they were just as enthusiastic about the idea as I was.”

Gunn and McClare have been following the engineers and technicians documenting their work.

“Chris and I knew this angle would be spectacular. The camera location presented a myriad of challenges due to the sensitive work environment,” said McClare. “The camera is about 50-feet above the ground securely affixed to a structure near the spacecraft, it could not be directly accessed after it was mounted.  Our system had to work continuously for almost four months capturing the complete mirror installation.”

The mirrors were built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., in Boulder, Colorado. Ball is the principal subcontractor to Northrop Grumman for the optical technology and optical system design. The installation of the mirrors onto the telescope structure is performed by Harris Corporation, a subcontractor to Northrop Grumman. Harris Corporation leads integration and testing for the telescope.

The James Webb Space Telescope is the scientific successor to NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. It will be the most powerful space telescope ever built. Webb will study many phases in the history of our universe, including the formation of solar systems capable of supporting life on planets similar to Earth, as well as the evolution of our own solar system. It’s targeted to launch from French Guiana aboard an Ariane 5 rocket in 2018. Webb is an international project led by NASA with its partners, ESA (European Space Agency) and the Canadian Space Agency.

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For examples of Gunn and McClare’s work on the Webb, visit:

To download the video, visit:

Laura Betz
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center