News Column

Made in Keene, launched by NASA

June 25, 2014

By Meghan Foley, The Keene Sentinel, N.H.

June 25--Aliens, beware: A piece of Keene is headed your way.

And you might want to get a helmet, or at the very least stay out of the path of one of NASA's newest spacecraft.

That spacecraft will have optical components on it manufactured in Keene by Corning Specialty Materials. The equipment is part of NASA's Origins-Spectral Interpretation-Resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer mission, or OSIRIS-REx for short.

Corning Specialty Materials is one of five businesses within Corning Inc., which is headquartered in Corning, N.Y., and has been in business for more than 160 years. Corning Inc. specializes in glass, ceramics and optical products for the consumer electronics, telecommunications, transportation and life sciences industries.

Two high-precision mirrors made in Keene have been delivered to NASA, Corning officials announced last week.

NASA plans to launch the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft in 2016. Its mission is to map a near-Earth asteroid named Bennu. The spacecraft will then be tasked with collecting samples of the asteroid's material to take back to Earth for further study.

The spacecraft is scheduled to arrive at Bennu -- which ranges from 186,000 miles to more than 211 million miles from Earth -- in 2018, and return to Earth in 2023, according to NASA's webpage about the mission. The asteroid makes its closest pass to Earth every six years.

Corning's high-precision mirrors will be part of the spacecraft's OSIRIS REx Visible-Infrared Spectrometer (OVIRS) instrument, which will help scientists locate areas on Bennu that may have contained water or organic materials at one time, Corning officials said in a news release last week.

"Asteroid Bennu is a primitive asteroid, relatively unchanged since the solar system formed over 4.5 billion years ago," said Dante Lauretta, University of Arizona scientist and principal investigator for the mission, in a statement.

"It definitely raises the excitement level and challenge when you do something like this," said Kevan P. Taylor, commercial manager for the aerospace and defense department at Corning in Keene.

While the company has a history of working with NASA, each project is different, he said. Essentially, no two mirrors are alike.

The optics in the OSIRIS mission had to be a certain size to fit in the spacecraft instrument, be configured for the best picture, and be able to hold that configuration and operate in temperatures of close to 300 degrees below freezing, Taylor said. Most importantly, the optics must survive the launch, he said.

"With a camera, you can adjust the focus, but when the camera is flying by an asteroid, you have to do things on the fly. Therefore, it's critical to get the dimensions correct," he said.

That is done by engineers with years of experience and software tools to aid them in designing the component, he said.

Optics made at the Keene facility are designed to handle light on the infrared spectrum, he said. They typically start as an aluminum block, which is sculpted by a machine to a certain size and specification, he said. The optic is then put through a diamond-turning machine to get its shiny and reflective surface, he said.

In the case of the optics Corning made for the NASA mission, they're tested at the Keene facility to see if they can survive the harshest conditions space has to offer, he said.

OSIRIS-REx is one of three missions in NASA's New Frontiers Program, which seeks to conduct high-quality, focused scientific investigations of the solar system. The other missions are New Horizons, which launched in 2006 and is scheduled to arrive at Pluto in 2015, and Juno, which launched in 2011 and is scheduled to reach its destination, Jupiter, in 2016.

Other NASA projects Corning has been involved in include the Hubble, Gemini and Subaru telescopes, and the New Horizons mission. It also provided the window glass for NASA's manned spacecraft missions to the International Space Station.

Meghan Foley can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1436, or Follow her on Twitter @MFoleyKS.


(c)2014 The Keene Sentinel (Keene, N.H.)

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Source: Keene Sentinel (NH)

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