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Illustration by Adrian Mann

In the 1980s the Soviet Union designed and built a heavy-lift rocket known as Energia that was comparable to the Space Shuttle, and even the Saturn V, in its lifting capability of 100,000kg (220,000 pounds). It successfully launched the unmanned Soviet Buran shuttle, but was retired not long after.

Since then Russia has rarely delved into the world of super launches. Their biggest rocket currently in operation is the Proton, capable of taking 21,600kg (48,000 lbs) into orbit. That’s quite sizeable in the realm of modern rockets, but it doesn’t come close to the eventual power of NASA’s Space Launch System, which will fly for the first time in 2017.

So for the last few years the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, has been drawing up ideas for a mega rocket called the Angara 7. It’s still in a concept stage, but Roscosmos is very much aware of a need for a heavy-lift launcher if they are to carry out their stated goals of taking humans to the Moon.

Rocket size comparison

The rocket currently being touted, which is illustrated above, would be capable of taking at least 35 tons into orbit, although it’s likely this would be upgraded to make a lunar mission possible. Russia has a strong history in the launcher industry with its Proton, Progress and Soyuz rockets being incredibly successful for the past few decades. The Angara 7 could be the rocket Roscosmos needs to begin manned exploration beyond Earth orbit.

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The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), originally known as the Next Generation Space Telescope, employs engineering techniques never used on a space telescope before and will produce unparalleled views of the universe. The JWST is scheduled for launch in 2018 in a joint venture between the ESA, NASA and Arianespace. Primarily, the JWST will observe infrared light from distant objects.

To gather light on the telescope the primary mirror on the JWST is made of 18 hexagonal beryllium segments, which are much lighter than traditional glass and also very strong. To roughly point the telescope in the direction of its observations a star tracker is used, and a Fine Guidance Sensor (FGS) is employed to fine-tune the viewings.

The secondary mirror on the JWST, which reflects the light from the primary mirror into the instruments on board, can be moved to focus the telescope on an objects. Each of the 18 hexagonal segments can also be individually adjusted and aligned to produce the perfect picture. While Hubble’s primary mirror is just 2.4 metres in diameter, the mirror on JWST is almost three times as big at 6.5 metres in diameter, allowing for much more distant and accurate observations.

A box called the Integrated Science Instrument Module (ISIM) sits behind the primary mirror to collect the light incident on the telescope. The ISIM is attached to a backplane, which also holds the telescope’s mirror and keeps them stable. A sunshield, composed of five layers of Kapton with aluminium and special silicon coatings to reflect sunlight, protects the incredibly sensitive instruments.

Image courtesy of NASA.


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