REDONDO BEACH, Calif., Sept. 10, 2003 (PRIMEZONE) -- With the selection of beryllium as the technology for the James Webb Space Telescope's (JWST) primary mirror, the team led by prime contractor Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE:NOC) is on schedule for the development of the nation's next generation space telescope.

The selection comes one year after the team was awarded a contract to build JWST by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC).

Northrop Grumman made the selection following a detailed process that took advantage of insights from a panel of experts representing the contractor team, NASA and the science community. The team had selected beryllium as the mirror technology for its original proposal. Subsequently, the team tested the technology and performed a six-month evaluation, during which the team reviewed the technology's implementation plans, technical performance and manufacturing schedule. Facilities, staffing and cost factors also were considered.

"We selected beryllium because the review panel rated it as the highest-performing, lowest-technical-risk solution," said David Shuckstes, Northrop Grumman Space Technology JWST program manager. "Beryllium also has demonstrated an impressive track record operating at cryogenic temperatures on space-based telescopes. This selection of beryllium positions the program for successful initiation of optic development."

Review panel member Matt Mountain, director of the Gemini Observatory in Hawaii and Chile and the JWST Science Working Group's representative, said, "The review process has resulted in a very rigorous and transparent examination of the key issues, encompassing performance, vendor capabilities, schedule and cost risks. I think the selection will ensure the Observatory's primary segments will be capable of great scientific performance at the L2 Lagrange point."

Mirror production will begin within the next few months. The mirrors will be incorporated into optical assemblies, mounted onto the telescope structure and then subjected to a series of tests at cryogenic temperatures, individually and as an integrated system.

JWST will peer into the infrared at great distances to see the first stars and galaxies formed in the universe billions of years ago. A component of NASA's Origins Program, JWST will search for answers to astronomers' fundamental questions about the birth and evolution of galaxies, the size and shape of the universe, and the mysterious life cycle of matter.

The Observatory features a 6.5-meter aperture mirror, comprised of 18 hexagonal-shaped segments. It will be 2.5 times the diameter of Hubble's mirror yet weigh only one-third as much. JWST will be orders of magnitude more sensitive than ground-based infrared telescopes.

Scheduled to launch in August 2011, the James Webb Space Telescope project is managed by GSFC for NASA Headquarters' Office of Space Science and consists of an international team involving NASA, the European Space Agency, Canadian Space Agency, industry and academia. Northrop Grumman is prime contractor and leads a team that includes Ball Aerospace, Kodak and Alliant Techsystems.

Northrop Grumman Space Technology is a leader in the design and development of satellites and space systems for space science, remote sensing and military missions.

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  CONTACT:  Sally Koris
          Northrop Grumman Space Technology 
          (310) 812-4721