Electronics Design Company Keeps NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope on Track for 2018 Launch

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In March 2016, the final round of -240C vacuum testing has shown Design 1st electronics updates were successful in helping COM DEV resolve critical guidance system problem in James Webb Space Telescope.

In a crunch, COM DEV, the company responsible for a key guidance system component of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, relied on a member of Design 1st's electronics engineering team to troubleshoot and repair a crippling control system software problem that threatened to delay delivery of the project .

Billed as the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, Webb will be the most complex and powerful telescope ever built. In 2013, late-stage space simulation tests uncovered a serious problem: the Fine Guidance Sensor (FGS) used to orient the satellite was behaving inconsistently.

The problem was critical and threatened to delay the entire global project. In searching for a solution, COM DEV engaged Design 1st. VP of electronics Peter Cottreau to troubleshoot the issue and recommend a solution.

“While I had worked on several satellite projects in the past, this was by far the largest and most challenging project,” said Cottreau.

Peter quickly diagnosed the problem and proposed to rewrite 3,000 lines of - Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) code.

“Once we made the decision to update the FPGA code, a long sequence of events had to be executed properly and without failure - Peter was instrumental in finding and implementing the necessary fixes,” said Brian Mackay, Chief Engineer at COM DEV.

After convincing NASA that the changes would completely resolve all issues, Cottreau’s electronics team was given the green light to go ahead. This task included rewriting the FGPA code and developing a test framework to verify the changes were effective. These updates proved successful were made to Webb’s host circuit boards.

As of March 6, 2016, with successful completion of instrument testing, the telescope is officially optically complete.

"This is the culmination of a lot of hard work by a lot of people who have been working for many, many years," said Jamie Dunn, NASA's Integrated Science Instrument Module Manager. "This final test was phenomenal, everything is working spectacularly well.

The James Webb Space Telescope is currently scheduled to launch from French Guiana on an Ariane 5 rocket in October 2018.

The full case study, with the electronics design lessons learned is available at http://www.design1st.com/Keeping-JWST-launch-on-track-case-study.pdf

About Design 1st
Over the past 18 years, Design 1st has helped create over 500 new products and contributed to over 130 patents, making them one of the largest, most experienced product design firms in Canada. Their industrial design, engineering, electronics, software, and manufacturing setup experts work as a unified team to help startups and large corporations transform ideas quickly into winning hardware product solutions.

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Al Caughey
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