Airbus Defence and Space

Exploring the universe Press releases

Airbus Defence and Space completes major milestone on the James Webb Space Telescope

Ottobrunn, 14 October 2009 – Airbus Defence and Space has successfully completed the Engineering Test Unit (ETU) for the Near Infrared Spectrograph (NIRSpec). NIRSpec will be integrated in the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) and will peer into the origins of our Universe.

 NIRSpec is a 100 million euros spectrometer, which is being developed by Airbus Defence and Space in Germany, capable of detecting the faintest radiation from the furthest galaxies. The completion of the ETU marks an important milestone for the JWST, and it will shortly be shipped to the United States where it will undergo testing by NASA.

  • Engineering Test Unit for the Near Infrared Spectrograph ready for delivery to NASA
  • Airbus Defence and Space responsible for developing the instrument that will study the evolution of stars and galaxies


Along with NASA, both the European (ESA) and Canadian (CSA) space agencies are involved in developing the JWST, which is due to be launched in 2014. The JWST is the successor to the Hubble space telescope and will study every phase in the history of our Universe, ranging from the first light after the Big Bang to the evolution of planetary systems. This will be made possible by the JWST’s huge primary mirror (which will be six and a half metres wide making it the largest telescope in space) and its suite of four highly sensitive instruments, including the NIRSpec.


Evert Dudok, CEO of Airbus Defence and Space said: “The completion of the NIRSpec ETU is part of Airbus Defence and Space’s ongoing contribution to the next step in modern astronomy. The JWST is hugely important in expanding our understanding of the Universe’s evolution and Airbus Defence and Space is at the forefront of providing the cutting-edge technology that will ensure this mission becomes a success.”


The NIRSpec, for which Airbus Defence and Space is the prime contractor on behalf of the ESA, will be capable of registering up to a hundred objects, such as galaxies and stars, through various spectral resolutions. This means that the JWST will be able to simultaneously observe large parts of space at unprecedented depths. The NIRSpec will weigh only 200Kg and will operate at temperatures of -238°C as the JWST orbits one million miles (1.5 million km) from Earth.. The flight model of the NIRSpec will be integrated and tested on the JWST from 2011 onwards and will operate for potentially up to ten years once in space.


Along with NIRSpec, Airbus Defence and Space in the UK is involved in the development of another key instrument for the JWST, the Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI). MIRI's objectives include distinguishing first light objects, studying galaxy evolution and exploring the development of stars. 


About Airbus Defence and Space

Airbus Defence and Space, a wholly owned subsidiary of AIRBUS Group, is dedicated to providing civil and defence space systems and services. In 2008, Airbus Defence and Space had a turnover of €4.3 billion and 15,000 employees in France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Spain and the Netherlands. Its three main areas of activity are Airbus Defence and Space for launchers and orbital infrastructure, Airbus Defence and Space for spacecraft and ground segment and Airbus Defence and Space for the development and delivery of satellite services.


AIRBUS Group is a global leader in aerospace, defence and related services. In 2008, AIRBUS Group generated revenues of €43.3 billion and employed a workforce of more than 118, 000.



Press contacts:


Daniel Mosely (Airbus Defence and Space UK)                                                      Tel.: +44 (0)1 438 77 8180

Matthieu Duvelleroy (Airbus Defence and Space FR)                                              Tel.: +33 (0) 1 77 75 80 32

Ralph Heinrich (Airbus Defence and Space GER)                                                   Tel.: +49 (0) 89 607 33971

Francisco Lechón (Airbus Defence and Space SP)                                                 Tel.: +34 91 586 37 41


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