James Webb “Telescope” Documentary Available to Stream

Discovery’s “Telescope” documentary, highlighting the high-stakes mission to build NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), premiered on February 20 and is now available for streaming on the TV channel’s website. The Webb telescope, which is the scientific successor to—and 100 times more powerful than—Hubble, will peer back over 13.5 billion years into the past when it is launched by NASA in 2018. The film, from Oscar-nominated filmmaker Nathaniel Kahn, provides viewers with behind-the-scenes access to Northrop Grumman Corporation’s Space Park facility in Redondo Beach CA, where a substantial amount of the design engineering, assembly and testing of the Webb telescope is taking place. Kahn was able to film testing on the telescope’s tennis-court-sized sunshield, its optical class spacecraft structure and the telescope structure responsible for holding the Webb 18 hexagonal primary mirror segments stably in space.

“It’s tremendously exciting to be part of the company helping build NASA’s most powerful space telescope. Webb could transform our understanding of the universe and be the first mission to reveal signposts of life beyond our solar system,” says Blake Bullock, a director at Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems who is featured in the documentary. “Having the opportunity to inspire future generations of engineers and scientists through our participation in this documentary is immensely rewarding.”

Telescope documentary preview. Video: Discovery

The documentary also highlights the innovative Starshade concept being studied by Northrop Grumman, NASA and others. Starshade is a mission using a large screen, shaped like a set of flower petals, designed to fly thousands of miles in front of a space telescope. It would eclipse different stars as needed to study planetary systems around the closest stars and perhaps find signs of life.

“The breakthrough technology of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope pushes us into new frontiers of scientific discovery, and we’re thrilled to continue sharing that message with the world through this documentary film,” says Scott Willoughby, vice president and JWST program manager, Northrop Grumman. “Participating in this documentary is important to us because it shares the gift of science, engineering and technology to a broader audience.”

Northrop Grumman, a defense contractor, is under contract to NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) and leads the industry team that designs and develops JWST, sunshield and spacecraft. Northrop Grumman has completed the integration, testing and delivery of the telescope structure, which holds optical assemblies of the telescope including its instruments and mirrors. The 18 hexagonal segments, recently installed at GSFC, that comprise the 21.3 foot mirror will assist scientists’ observation of the formation of the first stars and galaxies.