How A Simulation Software Improves With James Webb

James Webb: The development of the James Webb Telescope not only revolutionized astronomy.

The development of the James Webb Space Telescope was too complex to be tested on a large scale on Earth and in space-like conditions. Instead, the engineers and developers relied on software simulations.

James Webb

This work has helped to improve the entire field of integrated computer modeling, said the American space agency NASA.

“We’ve pushed all the simulations to the limit,” said Erin Elliott. She is an optical engineer at Ansys and the creator of the Ansys Zemax Optic Studio design software suite. This was used to develop the hardware and software of the Webb telescope.

James Webb The Contribution

James Webb: Contribution to the further development of simulation programs
Simulation technologies have improved dramatically over the last two decades due to increased computing power and the use of cloud services. However, according to NASA, other improvements can be traced directly back to the development of the space telescope.

In 2015, Elliott started working for Zemax and in the first few days optimized software for James Webb. The software should communicate better with other Windows programs. The company introduced an API for Optic Studio that enabled collaboration with other programs and further customization.

James Webb: GMISR

“It is important that there are multiple software companies that can not only help you cross-check your modeling but also improve each other through competition,” NASA optical engineer Joseph Howard said in the space agency’s report.

Most modeling was carried out in smaller steps. When the shape of a mirror or lens changes due to temperature fluctuations, the optics move. Thermal simulations were therefore carried out independently and the data were added to the next optical model.

Not only software, people also learned

The Star module (Structural, Thermal, Analysis, and Results) was also created. It integrates analyses from other simulation software directly into Optic Studio’s optical models. This function is also becoming increasingly important for autonomous vehicles, cell phone lenses, and other optics that work in difficult environments, says NASA.

“When we built Webb, we knew we couldn’t fully test it on the ground before flight, so we relied heavily on modeling and analysis to prepare for flight,” Howard said. “The next big observatory will be even more dependent on modeling software.”

“The people who built the Hubble Space Telescope also ran the Webb Telescope,” explained Elliot. These younger engineers will now be part of the group that will design the next structures.


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