Inside a massive clean room at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland the James Webb Space Telescope team is steadily installing the largest space telescope mirror ever. Unlike other space telescope mirrors, this one must be pieced together from segments using a high-precision robotic arm.
The team uses a robotic arm called the Primary Mirror Alignment and Integration Fixture to lift and lower each of Webb's 18 primary flight mirror segments to their locations on the telescope structure. Each of the mirrors is made with beryllium, chosen for its properties to withstand the super cold temperatures of space. Each segment also has a thin gold coating to reflect infrared light. These mirror segments will function as one when the telescope is in orbit.
"In order for the combination of mirror segments to function as a single mirror they must be placed within a few millimeters of one another, to fraction-of-a-millimeter accuracy. A human operator cannot place the mirrors that accurately, so we developed a robotic system to do the assembly," said NASA's James Webb Space Telescope Program Director Eric Smith, at Headquarters in Washington.