A group of engineers began working on a space telescope in 1989. Much of the technology they needed didn't exist.

The engineers and others went on to invent 10 new technologies in order to build what is now the James Webb Space Telescope, an observatory designed to do things that used to be impossible. The main private company that worked on the telescope with NASA was the one that developed, tested and built the telescope. They developed some of the most innovative engineering to make it possible.

Super-cold, super-light

Since the telescope's instruments have to be kept close to absolute zero, it was necessary to keep the telescope's temperature very low. Engineers were required to test their designs for the observatory.

If it has to operate in space at a certain temperature, guess what? "You have to show that it meets its requirements in that environment," Charlie said.

The James Webb Space Telescope has its first photos in the gallery.

Since the telescope's mirror would be 10 times bigger than the Hubble Space Telescope's mirror, engineers needed to make a material that wouldn't break in the extreme cold, but still be super-light.

The engineers chose to use a rare, super-light metal called beryllium, which is covered with a thin layer of gold. Engineers had to come up with a new way of making a very fine powder of pure metal called O-30-H so that it would be as stable as possible in the cold.

The mirrors did not stay put in the cold. The mirrors did not break, but they did change shape. The team faced a couple of challenges. The engineers had to make sure the mirror didn't get cold again. They had to create inverse deformations at room temperature.

"They looked bad at room temperature so that they would be perfect at cold temperature," he said.

The sunshield 

Engineers had to build a sun shield the size of a tennis court to keep the telescope cold.

One of the biggest challenges was the sun shield.

A film called Kapton is used to make the sun shield. Engineers were working with complex materials because the two layers closest to the sun have a Silicon coating on the side facing the sun to reflect light and heat back into space.

The team had to make sure the shield was in the correct place. The layers aren't parallel to each other and they're designed to make sure the heat from the observatory doesn't get to the telescope and cause damage.

The heat would be trapped if they were positioned in a different way.

Holding steady 

There were many puzzles to solve in the observatory. The structure that the telescope's mirrors rest on could be the greatest challenge faced by the engineers.

The 18 primary mirror segments have to be held in position relative to one another in order for this structure to be important. The image quality would be ruined if the support structure failed. The goal was to hold each mirror segment in place with no larger than tens of nanometers of error. The previous technologies only got that margin down to a few hundredths of a millimeter.

It was a huge ask.

Engineers had to test the backplane in cold weather. The support system was difficult because engineers knew how to test the mirror. Engineers had to combine two technologies in a new way to reach the required precision. The result is called speckle pattern interferometry and uses lasers and video technology.

It was necessary to create a technology to verify another technology. I thought that was the biggest challenge.

Handing it off 

It took decades here on Earth to engineer the materials used to make it, but they are now all in space and working as they should. The work of engineers at the companies that helped build Webb is over, and it's time to see what the future holds.

He said at a press briefing in June that it was "incredibly amazing" that we were on the verge of handingJWST over to the scientists. We don't know how to ask the question right now, but we have a tool that they can use to find out.

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