Inside the Development of Hubble's Exciting Successor: NASA's James Webb Space Telescope
Engineers at Northrop Grumman Corporation's Aerospace Systems sector are leading an industry team to develop a telescope that will look back in time to the period after the Big Bang when stars and galaxies were beginning to form — about 13.7 billion years ago.
Called the James Webb Space Telescope, this NASA program is often described as the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope. (Hubble launched in 1990 and has produced images of stars that existed more than 12 billion years ago.)
Heading the ambitious undertaking for Northrop Grumman is Scott P. Willoughby, Aerospace Systems Vice President and James Webb Space Telescope Program Manager. Scott is a seasoned veteran of overseeing advanced and complex aerospace systems at Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin and other industry leaders.
But the Webb Telescope's mission to collect early images of the universe ranks as the most challenging task Scott has undertaken in his distinguished career. His team is under contract for the design, development and delivery of the Webb Telescope observatory to NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.
The telescope has a five-year mission, but is designed to last more than 10 years. NASA, Northrop Grumman and their industry partners have made significant progress toward a scheduled 2018 launch that will send the telescope into space.
"A major element of the Webb Telescope will be a giant mirror 21.3 feet (6.5m) across, with about seven times the collecting area of Hubble," says Scott. No rocket is large enough to hold a 21.3-foot mirror if it was all one piece. So the Webb team decided to build the mirror with 18 hexagonal segments, which can be folded up to fit into the launch vehicle and then unfold after launch. Those mirrors have already been fabricated by subcontractor Ball Aerospace in Boulder, Colo., and underwent years of polishing to achieve the ideal shape.
"We were literally stripping atoms in the final stage to get the perfect prescription," Scott says of the mirror polishing process. Another major component of the space telescope is an aluminum-coated sunshield that will unfurl in space to stretch the length of a tennis court. In order to view very faint, distant objects in the infrared, the telescope and its instruments must be very cold. The sunshield will protect the optics and science instruments by blocking the light from the Sun, Earth and Moon that would otherwise heat the telescope.
While manufacturing and testing is being conducted in various locations, the telescope's final integration into a single spacecraft will occur in Redondo Beach. Then the telescope will be packed up and shipped on a barge from the Port of Los Angeles through the Panama Canal to French Guiana in South America — that is where Webb will be launched into space and start its two-month trip to its final destination one million miles from Earth.
Scott oversees more than 600 people who work on the project at Northrop Grumman's Space Park campus in Redondo Beach, Calif. About 1,200 skilled workers are involved in the production and testing of aspects of the undertaking worldwide, including at NASA and various industry partner locations.
Most recently at Northrop Grumman, Scott served as the P858 Program Manager in Advanced Concepts, Technology and Emerging Systems division. His primary responsibilities were to drive process improvements and delivery of this critical and strategic program.
Prior to that, he was the Program Manager for the Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) program, where he led the team on early deliveries to Lockheed Martin for two AEHF payloads (Flight 1 and Flight 2) and positioned the program for a subsequent early delivery of Flight 3. In 2009, AEHF was recognized by the Aerospace Systems President's Award for Customer Satisfaction related to these three early deliveries.
Scott earned his bachelor's degree, summa cum laude, in Electrical Engineering from Lehigh University in 1989, and his master's degree in Communication Systems from the University of Southern California in 1991. He is also a graduate of the UCLA Executive Program at the Anderson School of Management.
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