Unfolding Pathfinder, The Giant Spine of NASA's James Webb Space Telescope
The clean room at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center is now home to a massive spine.
The spine, otherwise known as a backplane, is called Pathfinder and it will serve as the primary support structure for NASA's giant James Webb Space Telescope. Eventually, 18 individual segments - including the 21 ft. primary mirror, instruments, and thermal control systems - will be mounted onto Pathfinder.
Pathfinder was assembled and tested in California, and then flown across the country in a C-5 aircraft. Once it had reached the U.S. air force base in Maryland, it was unloaded and driven by truck to NASA's Goddard Spaceflight center for testing in the clean room. But this isn't the model that will eventually find its way into space. The complexity of this structure is such that the NASA engineers need a real-size replica in order to practice hanging the components that will one day allow the James Webb Space Telescope to peer deep into space.
After testing is complete. the Pathfinder will journey to NASA's famous space center in Houston, Texas for yet more engineering tests - this time in a cryo-testing chamber meant to simulate the bitter cold temperatures of space.
If this all goes well, this optical telescope will serve as a replacement and upgrade for the aging Hubble Space Telescope.