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Components of new space telescope under construction in Magna

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Posted at 9:49 PM, Mar 24, 2013
and last updated 2013-03-24 23:51:24-04

MAGNA, Utah -- The Hubble Space Telescope has opened new doors to understanding space, and now a new telescope with a deeper range is in the works—and part of it is being built in Utah.

Engineers at ATK in Magna are working on a project of astronomical magnitude. ATK Engineering Technician John Jeppesen said the James Webb Space Telescope is an exciting piece of technology.

"The opportunity to work on this is probably the most unique challenge and opportunity I’ve had here at ATK,” he said. “It's a big project. It's impressive."

The telescope is a large, infrared-optimized space telescope, according to NASA’s website. The telescope will reside in an orbit about 1 million miles from Earth. Bob Hellekson, James Webb Space Telescope program manager, said the telescope is meant to change the way we explore space.

"Its primary mission then is to peer back into time 13.8 billion years to the time of the Big Bang and look at the original formation of galaxies, planets and stars, and eventually how life may exist on some of those planets,” Hellekson said.

The James Webb Space Telescope will replace and upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope. Hellekson said it will be able to peer deeper into space and send back clearer pictures of the cosmos.

The project has been in the works for nearly 11 years. Jeppesen said every detail must be perfected before the device can be launched into space.

"If you know what launching a rocket is like, this has to carry a lot of load and survive, and then it's got to survive when it's in deep space, and it's very cold,” he said. “It can't just crack and fall apart, so it's very precise, and it's very strong."

Hellekson said ATK’s portion of the project is building a set of wings that will allow the telescope to fold into a compact shape and then unfold once it’s in orbit.

“Our contribution here provides the enabling technology for this new telescope that essentially is going to rewrite textbooks and is also going to be able to fold up in space, because a telescope this large does not actually fit by itself without deployments into a rocket as we know it today," he said.

NASA is expected to launch the James Webb Space Telescope in 2018 after a series of tests. Hellekson said the telescope paves the way for future discoveries and developments.

"We look forward to taking these technologies and applying them to new missions in the future that maybe we don't even know what they are as of now," he said.