Technicians complete the primary mirror backplane support structure wing assemblies for NASA's James Webb Space Telescope at ATK's Space Components facility in Magna, Utah. ATK recently completed the fabrication of the primary mirror backplane support structure wing assemblies for prime contractor Northrop Grumman on the Webb telescope. Credit: Credit: Northrop Grumman/ATK Enlarge

(Phys.org) —A massive backplane that will hold the primary mirror of NASA's James Webb Space Telescope nearly motionless while it peers into space is another step closer to completion with the recent assembly of the support structure's wings.

The wings enable the mirror, made of 18 pieces of beryllium, to fold up and fit inside a 16.4-foot (5-meter) fairing on a rocket, and then unfold to 21 feet in diameter after the telescope is delivered to space. All that is left to build is the support fixture that will house an integrated science instrument module, and technicians will connect the wings and the backplane's center section to the rest of the observatory. The center section was completed in April 2012
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"This is another milestone that helps move Webb closer to its launch date in 2018," said Geoff Yoder, NASA's James Webb Space Telescope program director, NASA Headquarters, Washington.

Designed, built and set to be tested by ATK at its facilities in Magna, Utah, the wing assemblies are extremely complex, with 900 separate parts made of lightweight graphite composite materials using advanced fabrication techniques. ATK assembled the wing assemblies like a puzzle with absolute precision. ATK and teammate Northrop Grumman of Redondo Beach, Calif., completed the fabrication.

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