Image: Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems
A sunshield membrane ready to be precisely measured
The sunshields are arranged in five roughly kite-shaped layers that, oddly enough, look a bit like space blankets. The reason for this layered approach is that it allows for better heat deflection, since the vacuum between each sheet acts as a strong insulator. Most of the heat the sunshields are designed to deflect comes from the Sun, which, along with the Earth and Moon, will always be kept to one side of them, with the mirror pointing in the other direction.
Image: Drew Noel
The reflective qualities of the mirror segments are impressive; this one was photographed at the Ball Aerospace and Technology Corp.
Most of the real science happens behind the giant gold mirror. This is where the Integrated Science Instrument Module (ISIM) lies. It contains the Near Infrared Camera, or NIRCam, together with four other scientific instruments. The NIRCam is one of the most important parts of the JWST. This amazing camera will detect light from the beginning of the universe, when the original stars and galaxies were still forming, as well as from more recent star formations. The NIRCam is able to focus on dimmer objects – for example, planets orbiting stars – by blocking the light from the brighter object. This will allow scientists to study these planets and their characteristics.