ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — When the images from the James Webb Space Telescope return to Earth from deep space L3Harris engineers and technicians will no doubt feel a sense of awe and pride.
The L3Harris team was instrumental as part of the NASA team that helped integrate components on the telescope that will collect light and provide sharp images of deep space.
L3Harris’ Tony Whitman served as the Cryogenic Optical Test Director for the James Webb Space Telescope. He discussed the company’s role in this ambitious space mission during our Greater Rochester Enterprise Why ROC conversation Wednesday morning.
“Right now the Webb is a million miles away from Earth and right now the James Webb Space Telescope team is starting a three-month process of aligning all of the primary mirror segments and the secondary mirror to get those pristine, astronomical images from deep space as well as spectra from exoplanets starting in June,” explained Whitman. “But before they got to that process someone had to put all of those mirrors, detectors, and optical components in the right location here on Earth and that’s where L3Harris came in. We were responsible for designing and building the equipment and precision aligning and assembling all of those mirrors and detectors onto this space telescope.”
When it comes to missions like the James Webb Space Telescope, Whitman said the experience at L3Harris is key.
“The L3Harris Space and Airborne Systems in the Rochester area uses employees that have had experience putting together space telescope assemblies that date back all the way to our Eastman Kodak Company roots. We go all the way back to making space telescopes to orbit the Moon to find landing sites for the first astronauts on the Moon. So we have a long history of people skilled in aerospace technology and precision optical assembly. We take advantage of the industrial base in the Rochester area. We also take advantage of the skill sets developed by our local technical institutions like MCC, RIT, or the University of Rochester.”
Even as the James Webb Space Telescope reaches its destination and prepares to begin sending images back from deep space, the engineers and technicians at L3Harris are already focused on several other space projects.
“We’re in the middle of many space programs,” Whitman said. “In fact, when I returned from the test back in 2017 I started on NASA’s next-generation grade observatory that’s following the Webb. This is called the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope and this telescope is designed to solve or go towards solving the mysteries of dark energy, dark matter, and unforeseen galaxies. We’re also working on a project called LISA which stands for Laser Interferometer Space Antenna and that is three telescopes that will be in a triangular configuration on orbit. What they do is measure the relative movement of those three telescopes to detect gravity waves, so you can think of it as a gravity wave telescope.”
Whitman was expansive on the process of integrating components for the James Webb Space Telescope and the specific skill set embodied by L3Harris engineers and technicians.
Watch the full interview featuring L3Harris’ Tony Whitman below: