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Innovative Cooler Tested for NASA Telescope

Jun 14, 2016 11:30 PM EDT
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The new first-of-its-kind cooler for NASA's James Webb Telescope was recently tested to assess its readiness for its scheduled space flight in 2018.
(Photo : Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images)

The cold shouldn't hinder NASA's latest telescope cooler to perform its mission in space. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California just finished examining the "first-of-its-kind" cooler for the NASA James Webb Space Telescope scheduled for launched in 2018.

The "cryocooler" a project of Europe and the U.S. was sent for testing at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, to affirm its readiness for spaceflights.


Although designed to the liking and the size of an actual refrigerator, the cooler has more complicated tasks than freezing food. The cooler will freeze the new telescope's Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI). MIRI is crucial for the study of stars and exoplanets. The James Webb Telescope is equipped with MIRI, and will be launched to catch even the faintest whispers of light emanating from the oldest and first stars born un the universe which are billions of years old.

"When did stars start looking like they do today? MIRI will help us narrow in on the era of first light," said Michael Ressler, project scientist at JPL, in a press release by NASA.

The cryocooler compressor assembly was sent to the Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems facility in Redondo Beach, California where it will be reunited with the body of the James Webb telescope. Meanwhile, the MIRI instruments to be frozen are still at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. The parts of the telescope will be assembled in Northrop Grumman ahead of its space flight in 2018.

"We fully expect that the MIRI will open up a whole new territory of astronomy, enabled by this cooler," said John Mather, lead project scientist and Nobel laureate at NASA Goddard, in a statement published by Phys.Org.

During its mission, MIRI will be the coldest instrument ever to be used by the agency. It is expected to operate beyond "frostbite temperatures" of no more than 6.7 degrees above absolute zero.

The frozen instrument will be able to detect "mid-infrared" glow, which is usually invisible to the naked eye. MIRI will be supported by three other instruments, which all requires cold temperatures but not as cold as MIRI.


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