The most ambitious, costly robot probe ever built, the $10bn James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) – was blasted into space on the 25th December 2021 at 07.20 EST.
Described as a ‘time machine’ by scientists, the telescope will allow astronomers to study the beginning of the universe shortly after the big bang, 13.8 billion years ago, and to hunt for signs of life-supporting planets in our own galaxy.
You’ve possibly heard about this groundbreaking project in the news recently. It reached a global audience, unsurprisingly due to its significance. However, why is a freight forwarder writing a blog post about it? The reason is simple and proudly personal to us and our 50-year history as a specialist global logistics provider.
We had a small but crucial hand in this project.
In this article, we will be exploring this phenomenal project. We explain how Pinnacle supported a vital component of it and in doing so, hopefully demonstrate how a small to medium-sized specialist company can provide a valued skillset to an iconic behemoth like NASA.
Almost 25 years since its conception and designed as a replacement for the Hubble space telescope – still in operation after its 1990 launch – the James Webb telescope is a huge and complex instrument.
Development began in 1996 for a launch that was initially planned for 2007 with a US$500 million budget. There were many delays and cost overruns, including a major redesign in 2005. Pinnacle’s involvement didn’t happen until 2011. We managed a shipment including an advance ‘pre-flight’ version of the MIRI (Mid Infrared Instrument, a literally priceless component for the James Webb Telescope) from the UK to The Goddard Space Flight Centre in Washington.
In 2012 and following the success of the initial ‘pre-flight’ version of the MIRI, Pinnacle were employed again to manage the actual flight model. We were required to manage a temperature-controlled air cargo container (containing the MIRI component). We provided priority airside access, roller bed systems, air cargo security exemptions, and the building of bespoke air cargo slave pallets.
The project was managed by our UK and USA based teams. It was lead by one of our Directors, Paul Huston, who met the temperature-controlled airfreight container at Washington Dulles Airport and accompanied the unit to its delivery point at Goddard, ensuring its successful offload and handover to NASA.
A year later, we were again involved in the project. We managed the escorting of the original pre-flight model to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Los Angeles. A long and arduous but ultimately successful shipment that benefitted from a personal and ‘white glove service’ again.
“Although we pride ourselves on doing everyday logistics and freight operations well and, on occasion big projects with flair and commitment, these are almost exclusively of commercial importance to ourselves and our clients. It’s rare to participate in great historic events,” said Paul Huston of the project.
Our involvement in the NASA project was in association with the University of Leicester’s Space Research Center (SRC) and the European Space Agency (ESA). Here’s what Jonathan Sykes, Senior Engineer, Leicester University Space Research Centre UK had to say about Pinnacle’s role in this specialist project:
“Delivery to NASA of the MIRI instrument for the James Webb Space Telescope was the highest value shipment that we have ever been responsible for in 50 years of space research and the most difficult from a logistical point of view. Pinnacle were instrumental throughout the planning, organisation and ultimately the highly successful implementation of the delivery plan. We look forward to working with them again on similar future projects.”
What’s happening now/next?
So, now that this feat of human engineering has been successfully launched and is currently in space, what’s the latest news regarding its mission?
Well, the latest (as of the 8th January 2022, at the time of writing) is that the giant mirror of this space telescope was successfully unfurled. Over two days, NASA teams have remotely opened the telescope’s 6.5-metre (21ft), gold-coated mirror. This had been flat-packed into the rocket’s nose cone like a drop-leaf table, meaning it can now be prepared for its scientific missions.
Its tennis-court size sun shield – which will keep its delicate instruments cold – was already deployed. Now the secondary mirror, the Webb’s main mirror, will collect light from the furthest depths of the universe.
The James Webb, named after a former NASA administrator, still has to travel 400,000 miles to its destination. It will then need five more months for its instruments to be carefully calibrated.
For astronomers, the James Webb offers the prospect of capturing images of the first galaxies to form after the big bang, understanding how stars are born and evolve, and investigating the potential for life to appear in planetary systems. All this will have to be done in a decade, it’s maximum likely lifetime. After 10 years, it is expected the telescope will run out of fuel and slowly drift off course, which is a sad but true prospect.
We’d like to wish the James Webb Telescope all the luck in the universe for a successful journey. We’d also like to thank it in advance for the new wondrous discoveries it will unveil to us and also for letting us be a small but important part of its creation.
From the simple and common logistics requirements to the complex and literally priceless, contact Pinnacle today and speak to one of our team of global logistics experts for information, pricing and advice for your unique requirements.
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