NASA Goddard uses Femap to help develop the next-generation space telescope

By AlRobertson

NASA is using Femap to help develop a time machine. Scheduled for launch in 2018, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) will operate 1.5 million kilometers above the Earth. It’s ambitious mission is to examine every phase of cosmic history and look back into the past, “from the first luminous glows after the Big Bang to the formation of galaxies, stars and planets to the evolution of our own solar system”, according to the JWST website. The JWST is considered to be the next-generation space telescope and is much larger than the Hubble Space Telescope. At 22 by 12 meters, the JWST will be almost as large as a Boeing 737.

The JWST will have a hot side and a cold side, with the hot side consisting of the observatory spacecraft, which manages orientation and communication, and a shield to block heat and radiation from the sun, Earth and moon. The cold side of the JWST, where the Optical Telescope Element (OTE) and the Integrated Science Instrument Module (ISIM) are located, will operate at temperatures near absolute zero.

JWST Femap FE Model
JWST Femap FE Model

As there is only one opportunity for the JWST to succeed, every part and assembly of every system must be thoroughly tested on Earth to ensure that everything will function flawlessly. So simulating the performance of the JWST on Earth is the only way to ensure that the observatory will function as expected once in place. Simulations are performed using various CAE solvers in conjunction with Femap. Femap is used to assemble the model, which includes 18 mirrors, and it builds to become very large comprising more than 8 million node points.

If you come to the Femap Symposium in Atlanta (May 14-16) you’ll have a chance to see the keynote presentation and hear Mark McGinnis and Dr. Emmanuel Cofie from SGT (NASA subcontractor) talk about how Femap was used on the JWST.

You can read the full case study to find out more.

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This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at