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Ballscrews and Space Telescopes


Ballscrews are not usually considered a particularly interesting talking point, but their inclusion in the construction of an exciting new space project may shine a slightly more intriguing light upon them.

The James Webb Space Telescope

A special kind of ballscrew has become an integral part of the construction of the James Webb Space Telescope, which is intended to be the successor to the famous Hubble Space Telescope.

Hubble was launched into low orbit back in 1990 and was a basic reflector using a 2.4m long mirror that was equipped with multiple instruments to acquire clear views of the deeper universe in both infrared and ultraviolet light, as well as visible light. Since its launch, Hubble has transmitted immeasurable amounts of valuable data back to scientists and astronomers here on earth, but with its complete decay date estimated to be somewhere within the next couple of decades or so, the preparation of its replacement has long been underway.

The new space telescope is due to be launched in 2021 – as the current plan stands anyway – and has been designed to last at least five years. The Webb, as it is nicknamed by those working on it, is about the size of a tennis court and is named after the NASA administrator and government official James E. Webb who played an important role in the development of the Apollo program which saw humans land on the moon for the first time in 1969.

Ballscrews in the Deployable Tower Assembly

The ballscrews manufactured for use in the Webb’s construction enable the expansion of the Deployable Tower Assembly structure (DTA). Designed by the Northrop Grumman Company’s Astro Aerospace division in California, USA, the cylindrical DTA will help prevent the Webb from either freezing or overheating thanks to the graphite-epoxy composite material it is made out of.

The cylinder actually consists of two nested telescopic tubes which use a mechanised ballscrew made of lead to maintain their connection and manoeuvrability.

When fully retracted, the DTA is small enough to fit into the rocket fairing so it won’t hinder the launch capability, but once in orbit it can extend to a maximum of ten feet long to help the Webb handle the extreme changes in temperature likely to be encountered in space.

Other Applications of Ballscrews

Ballscrews suppliers and manufacturers also provide plenty of products that operate in similar fashion to the ballscrews used by NASA and their Canadian and European counterparts for their space telescopes. They are often integral components in the construction of aircrafts and even missiles for military purposes.

Usually the kind of ballscrews distributors like YB Components supply are for more down to earth applications such as the power steering function of automobiles, where they transmit rotary motions from the motor (usually electric) to the axial motion of the steering rack. Other common uses for ballscrews are with machine tools and robotic application.

Thanks to their inclusion in the manufacture of the Webb’s DTA, the list of ballscrew applications has certainly got a lot more interesting.

If you require any parts industrial machinery parts such as ballscrews – then contact YB Components who are the UK’s leading ballscrews suppliers.