For millennia man has stared at the heavens marveling at the infinite number of celestial bodies that appear nightly in the sky, seemingly suspended in the vast darkness of night. Throughout history, man has pondered many questions regarding the universe’s beginning and whether there is an end to the vastness of space. On December 25, 2021, NASA launched the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) in hopes of getting that much closer to the answers. Answers that will tell humanity the history of the universe.
The JWST is the largest optical telescope in space. Using the latest technology in its high-resolution sensitive instrumentation, the JWST can observe the furthest reaches of space and uncover secrets hidden deep within the cosmos. The JWST is capable of viewing objects that are too distant and faint for the previous Hubble Space Telescope to observe.
One key feature of the JWST is the ability to conduct infrared astronomy. Infrared astronomy focuses on the observation and analysis of astronomical objects by using infrared (IR) radiation. Conducting IR observations and analysis will enable investigations across many fields of astronomy and cosmology. Scientists and astrophysicists will be able to conduct observations of the first stars and the formation of the first galaxies. In addition, the JWST will allow observers to characterize the atmospheres of potentially habitable exoplanets.
It took an international team of very smart people working very long hours, implementing lots of lessons learned from previous projects, and a huge number of resources to build the JWST. The JWST was built using many integrated technologies. These technologies rely on many different sensors, computer processing power, memory, software, robust microwave transmitters and receivers, precision robotics, exotic metals, exotic shielding, and high-performance interconnects. However, out of all the onboard technology, temperature sensors and high-performance interconnects play critical roles for the entire JWST mission to work.
The JWST's onboard instrumentation, particularly its IR capabilities, require very cold temperatures to function properly. These temperatures are below 50 kelvin (K) (-223°C; -370°F), which are typically achieved with cryo- and diffusion pumps used in semiconductor manufacturing and applications involving liquid helium and nitrogen, such as biomedical applications. However, in space, where the baseline temperature is 2.7K such temperatures can be easily achieved away from radiating celestial bodies such as the Sun or Earth.
To achieve the required operating temperature, the JWST was placed in a solar orbit near the L2 Lagrange point, about 1.5 million kilometers (930,000mi) from Earth. The spacecraft is protected from warming by the Sun, Earth, and Moon with a five-layer sunshield. This remote location ensures that the JWST can remain at the correct operating temperature, allowing it to achieve its maximum potential for groundbreaking astronomical research.
This week's New Tech Tuesday showcases two space certified products from Innovative Sensor Technology and Amphenol Times Microwave Systems. The technology and precision behind both products are examples of what makes advancements in space exploration like that of the JWST possible.
Innovative Sensor Technology 600°C Series Platinum Sensors with Wires
Sensors used in space must fulfill several special characteristics that qualify them for space missions. Innovative Sensor Technology IST AG offers European Space Components Coordination (ESCC) qualified thin-film platinum (Pt) temperature sensors that can be used in a temperature range from -200°C to +200°C and are classified as tolerance class B (IEC 60751 F0.3). These RTDs are available with different resistances ranging from Pt100 to Pt2000 and are available as Engineering Model (EM) or as Flight Model (FM). The sensors can also be configured with extended wires (with an ESCC-qualified wire). Compared to traditionally used wire-wound sensors, these thin-film sensors show various advantages. Most importantly, they offer a less vulnerable surface that can be damaged when the sensor is exposed to constant thermal cycles and occasional vibrations. The thin-film technique, where the platinum resistance structure is firmly connected to the ceramic surface of the sensor, makes these sensors very robust and suitable for applications with frequent temperature fluctuations and vibrations.
Amphenol Times Microwave Systems InstaBend™ 086 Flexible Microwave Assemblies
The new InstaBend™ 086 Flexible Microwave Assemblies from Amphenol Times Microwave Systems are flexible, coaxial, high-performance microwave assemblies that provide a preassembled design for interconnects between RF circuit cards, modules, and enclosure panels. InstaBend assemblies are ideal for in-the-box applications with space constraints, including space flight, thermal vacuum, microwave test, and many other commercial and military applications. The cable can be bent very closely behind the connector, minimizing the footprint, saving space, and simplifying cable routing without the need to protect the back of the connector.
The JWST represents humanity's pursuit of answers to many questions about our existence. Space exploration presents many challenges, including vast distances and extreme conditions, but with precision components like those from Innovative Sensor Technology and Amphenol Times Microwave Systems, future extreme machines like the JWST will continue to be our window into the universe as we explore and try to understand it.
Rudy is a member of the Technical Content Marketing team at Mouser Electronics, bringing 35+ years of expertise in advanced electromechanical systems, robotics, pneumatics, vacuum systems, high voltage, semiconductor manufacturing, military hardware, and project management. As a technology subject matter expert, Rudy supports global marketing efforts through his extensive product knowledge and by creating and editing technical content for Mouser's website. Rudy has authored technical articles appearing in engineering websites and holds a BS in Technical Management and an MBA with a concentration in Project Management. Prior to Mouser, Rudy worked for National Semiconductor and Texas Instruments.
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