Today, he is among the millions of space enthusiasts enjoying the exquisite photography from that instrument that NASA is publishing to give academics as well as armchair astronomers a look back billions of years into the history of the universe.
“It’s a little bit of wonder, a little bit of amazement and in some ways, a deep sense of humility having a small role in it,” said Peralta, a Raytheon Intelligence & Space engineering fellow and electrical & optical engineer who worked on delivering Webb’s focal plane arrays.
The focal plane arrays are on the Mid-Infrared Instrument, or MIRI, one of Webb’s four instruments that are responsible for capturing these images, which study planets, stars and galaxies in infrared light.
The legacy Raytheon Company, specifically Raytheon Vision Systems in Goleta, California, developed and made MIRI’s focal-plane arrays, a critical component in the instrument, for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which managed the instrument before launch.
“One could call it the ‘eyeball’ of the sensor,” said Rick Peralta. “More technically speaking, it’s what turns light into electrical signals.”
Webb, which was launched in December 2021, is providing new insight into some of the biggest secrets of the universe. Operating by ground controls also from Raytheon Intelligence & Space, the telescope will peer at the first stars and galaxies in the universe, capturing infrared light that has been traveling for billions of years. And it is already providing new views of our celestial neighbors.
“Webb can see back 13.5 billion years in time, not long after the creation of the universe,” Peralta said. “I’m looking forward to it discovering something unexpected that alters the way that we think about things.”
Webb is a large, international project led by NASA, with the European Space Agency or ESA, Canadian Space Agency or CSA and many partners and companies providing different components. RI&S also installed Webb’s ground control system at Space Telescope Science Institute or STScI, in Baltimore. The ground control system is primarily responsible for maintaining the health and safety of the observatory and supports command and control of the observatory as well.
Ground controls for satellites or spacecraft are usually built after development is well under way, but legacy Raytheon started early in the process. That allowed integration of components of the observatory to start talking to the ground system software, to reduce integration time and minimize flight risk for the 2021 flight. Similarly, the focal plane arrays were delivered to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in 2006 so they could be integrated into MIRI.
“It didn’t make sense to use two different systems during integration and testing,” said Rusty Whitman, systems engineering manager at the Space Telescope Science Institute. “Raytheon has a long history on the project. We are making good use of everything done in integration and testing and developing lots of procedures.”