Software is key for deep space exploration

A range of software tools were used to create the James Webb Space Telescope. The companion to the Hubble Space Telescope will be launched into space to reveal the new secrets of the universe.

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Challenges without end

Reflect back to your last design project. Did it have leading-edge requirements that seemed impossible at the time to fulfill? Now think about a design that needs to live in the harsh environment of space. A device that has to sip power and function flawlessly for over a decade because there is no opportunity to service it.

This was just one challenge the engineers faced when designing the next-generation successor to the Hubble Space Telescope (HST), the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). It’s supposed to peer substantially farther through the dark-matter clouds of the extra-galactic universe. Farther in time to the epoch of “first light” and to the birth of the very first stars. And supporting the search for life on planets outside our solar system (exoplanets). 

Siemens’ unique IC design and verification tools were key factors in meeting the exceedingly difficult specifications and schedule of our project.
Dr. Lanny Lewyn, Founder of Lewyn Consulting Incorporated (LCI)

Software is key

Siemens is instrumental in helping to bring the JWST to life. The Integrated Science Instrument Module (ISIM) in the telescope contains a complex mix of sensors, cameras, and electronics. From the lowest level custom IC to overall multiphysics simulation of the four science instruments in the ISIM, the software was used extensively throughout the project.

  • The Tanner design suite (with built-in Calibre integration) was used to create the critical analog-to-digital converter (ADC) array that transforms the captured analog images created by the James Webb camera system, to digital images that can be downloaded to Earth. This array is part of an ASIC that Teledyne Technologies with the support of Lewyn Consulting Incorporated (LCI) provides for three of the four optical instruments.
  • At the Space Research Center of the University of Leicester, UK, NX and Teamcenter were used to design, simulate, and manufacture the MIRI module.
  • Capital was used to electronically connect the instruments.
  • And finally, using Femap helped NASA to simulate the performance of James Webb Space Telescope components. The software was used to bring together all the solver information for thermal and structural analysis of the fully-assembled instrument modules on the James Webb.

By the way, the age of the universe (since the “Big Bang”) is estimated to be about 13.82 billion years. During all that time has life developed somewhere out there? There are still so many secrets in universe that have to be unveiled. Maybe the JWST will help us discover some of them.



July 2019

Updated December 2021