National Instruments behind next-generation Hubble successor

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), NASA’s next-generation successor to the Hubble, is closer to its 2013 launch thanks to NI’s LabVIEW FPGA.

The JWST’s Near Infrared Spectrograph (NIRSpec) is equipped with more than 250,000 microshutters designed to observe thousands of distant galaxies to better understand the origins of the universe. These microshutters are actually microelectromechanical system (MEMS) devices that physically open and close for light exposure, similar to shutters on a camera.

Engineers at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center have successfully tested the microshutters using LabVIEW FPGA to control the shutters in a test chamber. “LabVIEW FPGA and R Series intelligent DAQ saved hundreds of man-hours and thousands of dollars,” said David Rapchun, lead testing engineer at Global Science and Technology/NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

“The decision to go with commercial off-the-shelf hardware instead of a custom solution provided a more cost-effective method, and the control algorithm can be easily modified to improve testing, explore shutter issues and otherwise further the development of the microshutters.”

NASA selected Mink Hollow Systems, a National Instruments Alliance Partner, to develop the FPGA software required for a test application capable of not only actuating each of the nearly 62,000 microshutters that are tested at a time but also providing design feedback and estimating the life of each unit.

For this, the LabVIEW graphical development environment was selected to quickly develop the test software required to give engineers the ability to customize shutter actuation tests while monitoring and controlling the test environment. To control the opening and closing of the shutters, engineers use LabVIEW FPGA to design a custom control algorithm that could manage the synchronization required for opening and closing the shutters 240 times per minute.