Electronic Design

NASA Uses NI Test For Hubble Successor

NASA picked a National Instruments partner to develop the FPGA software required to test MEMS microshutters on the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), a successor to the Hubble set to launch in 2013. The JWST is equipped with a Near Infrared Spectrograph (NIRSpec) that uses more than 250,000 microshutters to observe thousands of distant galaxies with the goal of better understanding the origins of the universe. Engineers at the Goddard Space Flight Center tested the microshutters with LabVIEW FPGA software. Mink Hollow Systems, a National Instruments Alliance Partner, developed the test software, which actuates each of the nearly 62,000 microshutters tested at a time. “Using the FPGA on intelligent DAQ devices, we benefit from low-level synchronization as well as reliability,” Eric Lyness, senior integration engineer at Mink Hollow Systems, said in a statement. “For example, if the shutter array were a picket fence with slats that were each 1 inch in width, the magnet would be moving past it at 600 mph. If our synchronization is off even for just a few seconds, the array could be damaged.” The software also provided design feedback and estimated the life of each unit. By using magnets to open and close the shutters, which reduced the impact of a shutter on a light baffle, the engineers significantly extended the life of the shutters. During the 10-year lifetime of the telescope, the microshutters may be required to open and close more than 60,000 times. Once the JWST reaches its destination—about 1 million miles from earth—it will provide scientists with an unprecedented glimpse into the origins of the universe.

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