Utah companies helping scientists explore distant galaxies

Posted at 7:38 PM, Jul 22, 2012
and last updated 2012-07-23 00:21:47-04

MAGNA, Utah - A Magna-based aerospace contractor was recognized this week for helping build a space telescope that will change the way scientists photograph distant galaxies.

Alliant Techsystems, Inc., or ATK, was recognized by NASA and Northrop Grumman for creating the optical mirrors on the James Webb Space Telescope.

"This component was a developmental component for the James Webb Space Telescope that will support the primary mirror in deep space for all telescope observatories," said Bob Hellekson, ATK. "It's designed and fabricated to be very stable to a 38-nanometer level. That level is equivalent to ten hydrogen atoms."

ATK build the 2,000-pound frame that holds the mirrors, which measure about 22 feet in diameter. The frame is made of a composite material designed to withstand temperatures of 350 degrees Fahrenheit. The telescope, which is scheduled to launch in 2018, will enable scientists worldwide to view the birth and evolution of galaxies and the formation of stars and planets.

"What we're learning on James Webb is going to enable a bunch of new applications, new observatories for NASA in the future, national defense applications. People now have new capabilities in their tool box that they didn't have before," said Lee Feinberg, NASA.

Officials say the telescope's reach will extend beyond viewing distant galaxies.

"We're investing in the future and in learning and in science. What we have today is one of those great American success stories because this country leads the world when it comes to this type of innovation and technological development," said US Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah. "It makes me very proud to live in this country and it makes me proud to live in this state where we have folks like the ones who work at ATK."

Utah's involvement with the telescope extends beyond ATK. The metal beryllium, which was used in the construction of the optical mirrors, was mined from the Materion Corp. mine in Delta. Utah State University is involved with research that will help engineers in the construction of the telescope.