Category Archives: Technology

An In-depth Look at How Steam Engines Work and Their Impact on History

A steam powered locomotivec
Photo: iStock

‍Overview

The power of steam has had a significant impact on the history of humankind and the concept of how they work is fascinating. From the Industrial Revolution to the modern-day, steam engines have been used to power the world in a variety of ways. 

In this article, we’ll take an in-depth look at how steam engines work and the impact they’ve had on history. We’ll explore the science behind how steam is generated and how its energy is used to power machines. 

We’ll also discuss the various applications, from powering locomotives to generating electricity. By the end of this article, you’ll have a comprehensive understanding of the science, history, and impact of steam engines.

History 

SS Savannah Hybrid Steamboat
SS Savannah. Half steamboat, half sailboat.

The first steam engines were used in the mid-17th century to pump water out of gold and silver mines. The first steam-powered ship, the SS Savannah was launched in 1819. However, it wasn’t until the mid-19th century that steam engines were widely used for industrial production. 

While the first steam-powered locomotive was built in 1829, it wasn’t until the 1850s that railroads began to widely use them. 

The Industrial Revolution was a time of incredible innovation and growth in the mid-19th century. The invention of the steam engine during this period greatly contributed to its growth. 

Many of the machines and products we use every day were first developed during this period. Engines powered by steam were used to power textile mills and other industries. They drove a variety of machines, from looms to cranes. They were used to power the bellows (furnaces) for forges. Forges were used to make swords, knives, agricultural tools, and many other metal products.

How Steam is Generated

Before we can discuss how steam engines work, we first need to understand how the energy source for these engines is produced. 

Boiling Point

Steam is the result of water being heated past its boiling point. When water is heated past 212° F (100°C), it turns into a gas, which is steam. The result is that the volume of steam (the amount of space that a substance or object occupies) is always greater than that of water; therefore, it will want to push its way out of the container if the container is not large enough to hold it.

This is why it is recommended not to place aerosol spray cans near heating sources. The spray is in liquid form but if it is near a heating source and the liquid starts to boil and turns into steam, there is a chance that the can will explode, since the steam needs to expand. 

The mechanism for Boiling the Water

Boilers are what are used to boil the water into steam. There are several types of boilers, but they all have one thing in common: they are enclosed vessels that contain water.

Steam boilers are used to power a variety of machines. The most well-known application was to power locomotives. As we mentioned above, when water is converted into steam, the steam will push its way out and if this force of pressure is harnessed in a way that it can be regulated, it becomes a source of energy that can become very useful. 

In the steam engine, there are openings in the boiler to let the steam out, and when this steam comes out, it becomes a force pressure on which anything it touches will have an effect; in other words, if there is a wheel barrel next to where the steam is thrust out, it will propel the wheel barrel quite a distance.

Enter the Piston

Diagram of a piston
Steam enters the cylinder (red pipe) and pushes the piston down. Steam stops and the piston moves back up. This cycle repeats itself until the process is stopped. Animation: Wikimedia Public Domain.

If the steam is connected to a piston, which is a cylindrical body inside a container (noted in green), usually metal that slides down when a force hits it (in this cases steam), it will move, and if another object is connected to the piston, (where the white hole is at the bottom) such as a wheel, the piston will then move the wheel. 

Now picture a row of pistons set up to move when the power of the steam hits on it, it can then move any number of wheels. 

Pistons have an additional feature and that is their ability to move back up to the top of their cylinder once the force of the steam stops, and if this process is regulated so that the steam comes out at regular intervals, the wheels that the pistons are connected to will keep on rolling.

This is how steam locomotives work, not to mention steamboats and machinery in factories as you will read further on.

Steam engines are also used to generate electricity in power plants. When it is generated in a boiler and then forced through a turbine, it spins a wheel, which is connected to a generator. This generates electrical energy via electromagnetism (the creation of electric current by spinning magnets).

Applications of Steam Engines 

Locomotives

Steam Locomotive
Photo by 44833 on Pixabay

Locomotives were all the rage in the 19th and early 20th centuries and it was the most common application of steam engines during the Industrial Revolution.

They were used to pull freight and passenger trains and were especially useful for transporting goods over long distances since they were much more efficient than horse-drawn wagons.

Additionally, these trains were able to climb steep hills. 

Ships

Many people think that steam engines came into widespread use on land, but they were also used to power ships. Ships were initially powered by wind and muscle power, but when the power of steam came along, they were used to power commercial ships in the early 1800s.

Steam engines were used in larger ships, such as steamships, which sailed between Europe and the United States. A perfect example is the Titanic. Although it came to a tragic end it was a giant and beautiful steamship that traveled across the Atlantic and powered everything from the kitchen cooking appliances to the giant pistons that moved the ship.

Automotive 

Steam engines are used to power automobiles in two ways. Some steam cars use a steam engine to power the wheels. Others use steam to generate electricity that can be used to power an electric motor. Steam cars have a long history dating back to the early 1900s. They were used throughout the 20th century until they were largely replaced by internal combustion engines.

Factories

Another common use was to power factories. They were used to mass-produce goods, and the engines were used to power the machinery that was used to produce goods, such as lathes, looms, and other industrial machinery.

Modern-Day Uses of Steam Engines

As we progress into the 21st century, the employment of steam is still being used for various purposes. They are often used in remote areas, such as deserts and mountains, where electrical grids are not available. In these areas, steam engines generate electricity.

Power Generation

Electrical power plants are no exception and there are still power grids in the US and around the world that use steam to generate electricity. The steam used in a power plant is usually generated by burning coal or natural gas, which then drives the pumps that transport water uphill. 

Conclusion

The impact of steam engines on history can’t be overstated. It is estimated that steam engines powered about 90% of the world’s industrial production around the start of the 20th century, which greatly contributed to the growth of many industries.

The textile industry, for instance, could not have grown to its current size without the use of steam. They were used to power the looms that were necessary for producing textiles on a large scale. Steam engines also helped transform the iron and steel industry. Before the invention of steam engines, the iron was produced in small forges. Once steam engines were used in forges, iron production could be carried out at larger scales. It also contributed to the growth of agriculture by powering irrigation systems.

 

 

 

The Space Shuttle Program

Space Shuttle Columbia from its 16th flight landing at Kennedy Space Center
Space Shuttle Columbia from its 16th flight landing at Kennedy Space Center Photo: Wikimedia Public Domain

The End of a Successful Era in Space and the Beginning of a New One

In 1975, the Apollo space program came to an end, along with it a legacy of unparalleled achievements, but this was only the beginning.

NASA was already working on a new venture for a more efficient spacecraft that they could reuse instead of relying on the disposable rockets that cost them billions of dollars to build each time.

This idea of a reusable rocket that could launch astronauts into space, but dock and land like an airplane were well-accepted for future space travel.

Enter the Space Shuttle Program

Early space shuttle concept
Early space shuttle concept. Photo: Wikimedia Public Domain

In 1972, President Nixon announced that NASA would develop a reusable space transportation system (STS). They decided that the shuttle would consist of an orbiter attached to solid rocket boosters and an external fuel tank. This design was considered safer and more cost-effective. 

One of the first obstacles was to design a spacecraft that didn’t use ablative heat shields, which subsequently burned up each time the shuttle re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere.

For the shuttle to be reusable, a different strategy would have to be initiated. The designers came up with an idea to overlay the craft with insulating ceramic tiles that would absorb the heat of reentry, without causing any danger to the astronauts. 

The First Flights

The first of four test flights began in 1981, leading to operational flights starting in 1982. They were used on a total of 135 missions from 1981 to 2011. The launchpad used was the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. 

Like the previous Saturn V rocket, the Space Shuttle had different components of its own, which included the Orbiter Vehicle (OV), a pair of recoverable solid rocket boosters (SRBs), and the expendable external tank (ET), containing liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen as fuel. 

The Shuttle was launched vertically, the same as any rocket in its category would launch, using the two SRBs to jettison it. The SRBs operated in a parallel fashion by utilizing the fuel from the ET. 

Once the mission had been completed, the shuttle would land similar to a jet aircraft on the runway of the Shuttle Landing Facility of KSC or Rogers Dry Lake in Edwards Air Force Base, California. After landing at the base, the orbiter was then flown back to the KSC on the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, which was a specially modified Boeing 747.

Tragedy Hits

Although the accomplishments that the shuttle program has achieved are beyond expectations, there were two unfortunate events during its time.

Challenger January 28, 1986

Shortly after liftoff, the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded f the U.S. space shuttle orbiter Challenger, claiming the lives of seven astronauts.

Among those who were lost were teacher-in-space Christa McAuliffe, commander Francis (Dick) Scobee, pilot Michael Smith, mission specialists Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnik, and Ronald McNair, and Hughes Aircraft engineer Gregory Jarvis.

Space Shuttle Crew
The crew of Space Shuttle mission STS-51-L poses for their official portrait on November 15, 1985. In the back row from left to right: are Ellison S. Onizuka, Sharon Christa McAuliffe, Greg Jarvis, and Judy Resnik. In the front row from left to right: Michael J. Smith, Dick Scobee, and Ron McNair. Photo: Wikimedia Public Domain

Columbia Feb 1, 2003

It was the final mission of Columbia. Seven crew members lost their lives when the shuttle burned up over the state of Texas during its reentry on Feb 1, 2003.

NASA Columbia Crew
The STS-107 crew included, from the left, Mission Specialist David Brown, Commander Rick Husband, Mission Specialists Laurel Clark, Kalpana Chawla, and Michael Anderson, Pilot William McCool, and Payload Specialist Ilan Ramon. (NASA photo. via Wikipedia)

 

The Basics of Electric Generators

What are Electric Generators?

Hand starts a portable electric generator in front of a summer house in summer
Photo: iStock

Electric generators are the opposite of electric motors, but they work on the same concept. Whereby an electric motor uses an electric current to create a magnetic field, a generator uses a  magnetic field to induce an electric current. If you read our article on electric motors, then this should sound very familiar. The process is only reversed.

The current that is produced flows through a conductor which is usually a wire, but it can also be a metal plate. The output of the current is then used to power anything from a small device (e.g. a lamp or computer) to an entire town or city.

What They are Used For

Generators are used to create electricity which then powers homes and businesses. They can be powered by either an electromagnet or a permanent magnet. The type of generator you use will determine how much electricity you can generate.

They are often used to provide backup power in case of a power outage, and they are also used in many portable applications such as camping and RVing. Just about all emergency facilities have backup power, such as hospitals. 

In some cases, generators can also be used to supplement the main power source, providing additional power during high-demand periods.

The most common power sources are fuels such as coal, natural gas, or oil.

How Does an Electric Generator Create Energy?

When the generator is turned on, its moving parts create a magnetic field, producing an electric current. (Remember with electric motors, an electric current is produced that provides a magnetic field. This is the opposite of what generators do.) The current flows through wires to an external circuit, where it can be used to power electric devices. In this way, an electric generator converts mechanical energy into electrical energy.  

What are the different types of electric generators available on the market today?

The most common type uses a combustion engine to generate electricity. These engines can be powered by gasoline, diesel, natural gas, or propane.

Another type is the steam turbine, which uses steam to power a turbine that generates electricity. Steam turbines can be powered by coal, nuclear reactors, or solar thermal power plants.

The third type of generator is the hydroelectric generator, which uses water to power a turbine that generates electricity. Hydroelectric generators can be powered by waterfalls, dams, or river currents. The Niagara Project is a perfect example of the delivery of electricity via hydroelectric generators.

Illustration of a wind turbine
Wind turbines spin which produces a magnetic field which then produces electricity. Photo by Gonz DDL on Unsplash

The fourth type of generator is the wind turbine, which uses wind to power a turbine that generates electricity, but there must be enough wind for the proper amount of electricity to be produced.

Wind turbines can be used in both onshore and offshore locations.

 

How Can You Choose the Right Electric Generator for Your Needs and Budget?

With so many different brands, models, and features to choose from, it’s hard to know where to start. However, by considering a few factors, you can narrow down your options and find the perfect generator for your needs and budget.

First, decide what type of generator you need. For example, if you only need power for occasional use, such as during a power outage, a portable generator may be sufficient.

However, if you need a constant supply of electricity, such as for a construction site or an RV, a stationary generator would be a better choice.

Next, consider how much power you will need. For most applications, a small generator that produces around 2,000 watts will suffice.

However, if you need to run large appliances or multiple devices at once, you’ll need a more powerful model. Finally, compare prices to find the best value for your money. Be sure to factor in the cost of fuel and maintenance when making your decision. By considering these factors, you can find the perfect electric generator for your needs and budget.

Important Safety Tips

 First, always read the manufacturer’s instructions carefully before operating the generator. This will help you to understand how the generator works and what safety measures need to be taken.

Next, make sure that the generator is properly grounded before use. This will help to prevent electrical shock. Finally, never operate the generator near flammable materials or in enclosed spaces, as this can create a fire hazard.

By following these simple safety tips, you can help to ensure that your experience with an electric generator is safe and enjoyable.

How an Electric Motor Works

Overview

3D cut out illustration of an electric motor
Cross section of an electric motor. Photo: iStock

When an electric current runs through a wire, a magnetic field is produced and when there is a magnetic field, metallic elements become attracted to it. This is the concept behind the workings of an electric motor.

If we can maintain these elements to move towards the magnetic field and away from it at an ongoing, continuous rate, we can have a device that is constantly spinning.

If we attach something to the part of the device that is constantly spinning, such as a glass plate in the microwave, we have harnessed the power of converting electrical energy into mechanical energy, or more specifically, we have created an electric motor.

What Devices Use Electric Motors?

When you use an electric razor, toothbrush, fan, or vacuum cleaner, you are using an electric motor. Let’s through the inner workings of your car also. That’s probably no surprise, but how about this: washing machines, refrigerators, microwaves, your computer, and even your smartphone!

Confused? Don’t be. Something is needed to operate the refrigerator’s compressor. If there is a mechanical hard drive in your computer, then there is a small motor that turns the disk. And microwaves? Well, something must be spinning that glass plate around, right?

And your electric cars (if you have one). They have motors, which are used to spin the tires as you drive, among other things.

The bottom line is you probably go about your day using some device that uses an electric motor. So now that we know how our lifestyles are affected by these devices, let’s delve into how these motors work.

The Working of an Electric Motor 

First, let us focus on the magnetic field that causes the components within the motor to constantly spin.

How is the magnetic field created? Our article on magnetic fields explains this, but in a nutshell, if we connect a wire to a battery, the electrons of each of the atoms will move toward the positive pole of the battery. If we wrap the wire around a metal rod, the magnetic field intensifies.

Inside of an electric motor.
Inside of an electric motor. Photo: iStock

The Initial Stage

The motor is designed so that the magnetic poles of a rod, called a rotor are always facing the same polarity of a stationary magnet, called a stator, causing the rotor to spin around.

For example, when electricity is turned on, the polarity of one side of the rotor, let’s say the north side is initially facing the north side of the stator, so there will be that repelling effect, causing the rotor to spin in the other direction.

The Next Stage

Well, that initial stage works just as it should because like poles repel each other, but that’s it. Then it stops, so for the rotor to keep spinning, there has to be a mechanism that will cause the poles to reverse continuously.

That is the job of the commutator. This entity keeps reversing the path of the electrons so that the poles are always repelling one another and consequently, keeps the rotor spinning.

Key Parts of an Electric Motor

Let’s review the parts of the motor:

    • Stator – The stationary part of the motor that creates the magnetic field that causes the rotor to spin. The stator is found in between two pieces of copper that conduct electricity.
    • Rotor – The rotating part of the motor that is placed within the magnetic field.
    • Shaft – The shaft of the motor connects the rotor to the stator and is used to power the equipment or machinery.
    • Commutator – The device that reverses the polarity of the rotor. Like reversing a battery at every spin so that the electrons change course.
    • Fan – The fan is used to create air flow and increase the efficiency of a motor.

Final Words

Electric motors are all around us. They are a safe, efficient, and reliable way to power machinery and equipment. They are available in a range of sizes, voltages, and designs and can be powered by a wide range of energy sources, including fossil fuels and renewable energy sources like solar or wind. 

 

Electromagnetism: From the Basics to Everyday Applications

Depiction of a wire wrapped around a nail with the wire connected to a battery creating a circuit and consequently creating an electromagnetic.
Depiction of a wire wrapped around a nail and connected to a battery, creating a complete circuit, resulting in the creation of an electromagnetic. When electrons start to run through the wire (from one end of the battery to the other), a magnetic field is produced and the nail is magnetized, consequently, the paper clips are attracted to the nail. If the power shuts off, the paper clips will no longer have that attraction. Photo: iStock.

Let’s Start with a Piece of Metal

Let’s use iron for example. Touch it with another piece of iron and what happens? Nothing! Now take a bare wire, copper preferred. Wrap the copper wire around one of the pieces of iron and what happens? Still nothing!

Now grab both ends of the copper wire and connect it to a battery. What happens? Still nothing – at least nothing noticeable that the naked eye can see!

What is happening when the wires connect to the battery (called a circuit) is that the electrons were random before the circuit was completed and they straightened out, like a row of marching soldiers after the circuit is complete.

These marching electrons will point and move towards the pole ( polarity) of the battery it is connected to. Now let’s get a little more technically correct and call these marching electrons an electric current, and as these electrons (current) are moving through the wire, a magnetic field is produced. 

When There is Electric Current, There is a Magnetic Field

Illustration of wires wrapped around metal and connected and disconnected to a battery
Left: Iron bar with wire wrapped around it (coil) and iron filings nearby laying stationary because the wires are not a complete circuit (connected to the battery).  Right: Same configuration but with the circuit complete and iron fillings are then attracted to it. Photo: iStock

But Just What is This Magnetic Field?

If we pick up the other piece of iron (which does not have the copper wire around it) and place it near the iron piece that has the wire wrapped (and thus the electric current), that isolated piece of iron suddenly moves toward the electrified one.

The reason why the iron pieces attract each other is that the iron piece with the copper wire wrapped around it (called a coil) becomes magnetic. And so, we have just created an electromagnet

For the video below, you might want to put your thinking caps on as it explains pretty well how electromagnetic forces are derived (hint: when electrons move through a wire). We suggest those that who are in school and/or have an absorption for learning continue to this video.

For those that would like to bypass such items as Maxwell’s equations and just want a cheat sheet of what is the criteria for an electromagnetic field, see our summary below.

How Electromagnets are Made

An electromagnet can be made out of any type of metal, but iron and nickel are the ones most often used. Nickel magnets are stronger than iron magnets, but iron is cheaper. 

Iron is found in most scrap yards, or you can buy it from a hardware store. The first step in making an electromagnet is to create a wire that is wrapped with a coil of metal several times. This is known as an electromagnet coil. The coil has to be wrapped around a core, which is made out of a non-magnetic material. 

The Magnetic Field

A picture of a magnet
A permanent magnet has the same properties as an electromagnet but without the current. Image by Francesco Bovolin from Pixabay

The electromagnetic field is the region of energy surrounding a magnet. The magnetic field is perpendicular to the path where the electrons flow.

Why are Electromagnets Important?

Electromagnets are important because they can be used to power items and devices that are used by us every day. Motors and generators are just two examples. They are also used in toys, as a way of moving things around in a car or even to move things in a factory. 

They are also useful because they’re easily controllable. If you want to turn the electromagnet off, you simply turn off the electric current running through it. If you want to turn it back on, you can simply turn it back on again.

Types of Magnets

There are two types: temporary and permanent. Temporary magnets are only magnetic while electricity is running through them. Permanent magnets remain magnetic no matter what happens. This is because these magnets are not electrified. An example is the ones stuck to your fridge or another metal surface.

Conclusion

Magnetism is created when electrons are in movement. In a practical sense, this means that if you connect a wire to a battery (power source), electrons will move from the negative pole to the positive pole of the battery.

When this happens, a force is created in addition to the electrical force, which is the magnetic force. This magnetic force ‘pushes’ perpendicular to electrical force (current), so any metal that has magnetic properties will be attracted to this force and move towards it accordingly.

The magnetic force can be strengthened by any of the following criteria.

    • Take the straight wire and curl it around the medium, usually an iron bar. The result is called a coil.
    • Wiring the coil more will cause the magnetic field to strengthen.
    • Increasing the current; that is, increasing the speed at which the electrons travel through the coiled wire will also strengthen the magnetic field.

The practical applications of electromagnets are the ability to cause an entity to move because of this force, such as what happens inside a motor.

 

 

 

What is Star Link?

Star Link Rocket Lifting Off
Elon Musk’s Star Link Rocket Lifting Off. Photo by SpaceX-Imagery on Pixabay

Elon Musk has always been known for his eccentric ideas and they are often so far-reaching and innovative that people don’t believe he’ll follow through on them—at least not in the way he does. 

When Elon Musk announced Starlink, it was just more of the same. It sounded like another quirky idea, but this time with a twist. Some people even dismissed it as a PR stunt, and others thought there was no way it could succeed given the current limitations of space technology.

 Now that we know more about Starlink and its development, it seems they were all wrong…again. In this article, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about Elon Musk’s Starlink project, how it became a reality, and what it means for space exploration moving forward.

What is Starlink?

Starlink refers to the development of thousands of satellites that are being put into low-Earth orbit as a way to provide internet and communications services across the globe. 

This system will be made up of small satellites that will be used to bypass internet issues and other problems that plague both developed and developing countries. The project was first announced in 2016 and, since then, SpaceX has been creating what it calls “the most sophisticated and largest new commercial satellite constellation in history.”

As of 2019, the company has created over 2,000 satellites, with plans to launch 16,000 more in the coming years. The network will be made up of 80 satellites in low Earth orbit, 12,000 satellites in mid-Earth orbit, and 1,800 satellites in geostationary orbit

The low-Earth orbit satellites will help to provide internet access to remote areas while the mid-Earth satellites will deliver high-speed broadband to urban areas. The geostationary satellites will help to bridge the two networks together.

How Does Starlink Work?

Planning and implementing the Starlink network started in 2016, with the first test satellites launched in 2017. However, a Falcon 9 rocket explosion at Cape Canaveral put that mission on hold, causing delays to the development of Starlink. 

A second launch was scheduled for February 2018, but once again, the mission was put on hold due to inclement weather. The third launch occurred in March 2019, and the rest of the satellites were sent out at regular intervals to complete the network. 

Once the network is fully operational, it will be capable of providing internet access to billions of people across the globe. 

Why is Starlink Important?

The internet has become a fundamental part of modern life. It is used for everything from staying in touch with friends and family to researching information, finding new hobbies, managing finances, and even procuring employment, not to mention the vast array of political aspects. 

If you don’t have internet access, you are essentially cut off from the world, but this is a reality, particularly in the developing world. In places like Africa, Southeast Asia, and South America, many don’t have Internet access. That’s about two-thirds of the world’s population. Unfortunately, this isn’t a problem that can be fixed by simply installing more internet cables. The issue is that there aren’t enough satellites in orbit to provide the coverage needed.

The Problems With the Current System

Communications satellites are designed to orbit at 22369.37 miles above the surface of the Earth, with the International Space Station orbiting at just 248.5 miles above the planet’s surface. 

This means that the satellites are out of reach for most people on the ground. Therefore, if someone wants to use a satellite for anything, they need to be connected to a nearby ground station. 

There are around 1,800 ground stations currently in operation around the world, but they can’t cover the entire planet. As a result, there are large parts of Africa and South America that don’t have any access to satellites. Even within these areas, coverage is patchy at best. 

If you look at a map of satellite coverage in South America, you’ll notice that many places are completely blacked out. This is because there needs to be a clear line of sight between the ground station and the satellite. If a mountain or a building gets in the way, it will completely block the signal. So even if you have a satellite available, it may not be able to provide you with a decent internet connection.

Will People Use It?

It is estimated that SpaceX will have to deal with around 700,000 pieces of space debris when they finally launch all the satellites. But despite this, the company has already sold $1 billion in services to two unnamed customers and is expected to launch thousands of satellites in the coming years. 

This is a good sign, particularly since the two customers have remained anonymous until now. While it is impossible to know for sure if people will use the network once it is launched, we can take a look at similar projects in the past to get an idea of the potential for success. For example, Inmarsat, a British satellite telecommunications company, launched a network of satellites in the late ’80s. At the time, the idea of being able to communicate with each other from the middle of the ocean seemed like science fiction. However, the system was so successful that it has been used ever since. The company has over 19 million subscribers and a market capitalization of $14 billion. It has become so successful that it is now “a world-leading provider of global mobile services.”

Conclusion

Starlink is a huge project that will see thousands of satellites put into low-Earth orbit as a way to provide internet and communications services across the globe. Elon Musk introduced the project in 2016 and since then his company has been developing what they call “the most sophisticated and largest new commercial satellite constellation in history.” There are still challenges that need to be overcome, particularly in terms of dealing with space debris. But if everything goes to plan, this will be the start of a new era in the way we access the internet.

 

How is Steel Made? The Process Explained

Steel Columns and beams of 1 World Trade Center
Steel columns and beams of One World Trade Center Under Construction. 3/5/2010. Photo: © SMS

Walk down any city construction site and you’re bound to see a network of steel beams and columns rising from the ground. Why are they using steel? Because steel is strong, durable, and easy to work with. It is the iron alloy of choice for building construction. 

If you’re wondering how steel is manufactured, wonder no more! In this blog post, we’ll explain the process from start to finish. 

History of Steel

The emergence of steel can be traced back to the Iron Age when it is used to make swords.  History experts say that the original creators of steel were the Hittites, a middle-eastern civilization that existed during the Bronze Age and later into the Iron age, between 1400 and 1200 B.C. in what is now Syria and Turkey. They learned that by heating iron with carbon, a stronger metallic substance could be made.

Historians are not exactly sure what happened to the Hittites, but the consensus is that they most likely morphed into the Neo-Assyrian Empire (912 to 612 BC).

It has also been discovered that China had first worked with steel around 403–221 BC. and the Han dynasty (202 BBC—AD220) melted wrought iron with cast iron, producing a steel composite.

Modern Day Uses

With the advent of the railroad construction boom in the 19th century and its ongoing requirement for metal to make the tracks, a supply issue was materializing. The process was slow and tedious due since there wasn’t any automatic process to fill the need.

Enter the Steel Mill

Steel mills provided the raw materials for many of the world’s most important products. Since the first mill opened in the early 1800s, they were constantly improved and adapted to meet the needs of the times.

Bethlehem Steel producing 6" guns
6″ guns are being produced by Bethlehem Steel. Photo: Wikimedia Public Domain, circa 1905

These manufacturing plants have helped build skyscrapers, bridges, and countless other structures. They have also been instrumental in the development of new technologies, solving railway construction issues to assembly lines for other products.

There was no time more profitable for the steel mill than during the industrial revolution which began in the nineteenth century and up to the mid-twentieth century.

And there wasn’t a company more notable to achieve the country’s manufacturing demand than Bethlehem Steel, which provided the product for 125 years starting in 1887.

How Steel is Made

Steel does not grow out of thin air. It begins with the mining of iron ore, which then has to be combined with the element carbon via a blast furnace. Let’s get ma more involved in understanding how this process works.

Mining the Iron Mineral

It all begins with the mining of iron ore. An ore represents a mineral from here a valuable asset can be extracted.

Once it is taken out from the quarry, the ore is melted and purified  (removing impurities from the ore and leaving only the metal). This is done in a blast furnace.

Enter Carbon

Carbon is an element in the Periodic Table that has an atomic number of six, with four electrons in its outer shell and two electrons in its inner shell.

Atoms that have less than eight electrons in their outer shell, (called the valence shell) tend to look for other atoms to bond with so that their outer shells can stabilize the atom by balancing the shell to eight electrons. This is based on the Octet Rule.

Illustration of the carbon atom
Bohr Illustration of the Carbon Atom. Photo: Photo by dacurrier on Pixabay

Iron has eight electrons in its valence shell, so if you bond the carbon atom that has six valence electrons with the iron atom, you have a molecule of two different atoms which forms steel.

It is essential to ensure that the correct amount of carbon is used with iron, approximately 0.04% so that the resultant product is that of steel.

If the wrong amount of carbon is mixed with iron, a different product will be produced such as cast iron or wrought iron – both of these are not efficient to render steel.

When is Carbon Added to Iron?

For steel, the combination of the two elements is done while the iron metal is liquid hot, which then alters the iron’s properties to change to that of steel.

Steel subsequently becomes an alloy (a metal made by combining two or more metallic elements) of iron and carbon.  This causes a distortion of the crystalline lattice structure of iron and subsequently enhances the metal’s strength; specifically, it increases the metal’s tension and compression properties. 

The Manufacturing Process

Steel Cantilever at Chase Bank Headquarters
Steel Cantilever at Chase Bank Headquarters Under Construction, 8/5/2022. Photo: © SMS

A breakthrough for manufacturing steel via an automated process materialized in 1856 when Henry Bessemer found a way to manufacture steel quickly. Bessemer’s steel production process is what inspired the Industrial Revolution. 

It was the first cost-efficient industrial process for the large-scale production of steel from molten pig iron, by taking out impurities from pig iron using an air blast. 

Adding Carbon Produces a Variety of Iron Alloys

As previously mentioned, when mixed with carbon, the iron’s characteristics will be changed, allowing a variety of different types of metal alloys to be created. It all depends upon the amount of carbon that is added to it. Let’s take a look.

Wrought Iron

Wrought iron fence. Palermo Italy
Wrought iron fence. Palermo Italy.
Photo: © SMS

Wrought iron is softer than cast iron and contains less than 0.1 percent carbon and 1 or 2 percent slag.

It was an advancement over bronze and began to replace bronze in Asia Minor by the 2nd century BC. Because iron was far more plentiful as a natural resource, wrought iron was used for a wide variety of implements as well as weapons and armor. 

Cast Iron

Cast iron buildings NYC
Cast iron buildings, Lower Manhattan. Photo: © SMS

Cast iron is an alloy of iron that contains 2 to 4 percent carbon, along with smaller amounts of other elements, such as silicon, manganese, and minor traces of sulfur and phosphorus. These minerals are nonmetallic and are referenced in the industry as slag. Cast iron can be easily molded into a desired shape, known as casting. and has been used to make decorative fences and other aesthetic forms.

Cast iron facades were invented in America in the mid-1800s and were produced quickly, requiring much less time and resources than stone or brick. They were also very efficient for decorative purposes, as the same molds were used for many buildings and a broken piece could be quickly remolded. Because iron is powerful, large windows were utilized, allowing a lot of light into buildings and high ceilings that required only columns for support.

Steel



Steel is an alloy made from iron that usually contains several tenths of a percent of carbon, which increases its strength and durability over the other forms of iron, especially in tensile strength.

Strictly speaking, steel is just another kind of iron alloy, but has much lower carbon than cast iron, and about as much carbon (or sometimes slightly more) than working iron, with other metals, frequently added to give it additional properties. 

Most of the steel produced today is called carbon steel, or simple carbon, although it can contain metals other than iron and carbon, like silicon and manganese. 

Summary

The advantages of steel are numerous, from great tensile and compression strength to speed of manufacturing to low cost, it is the metal of choice in construction when compared to iron.

 Although iron and steel appear to be similar, they are two distinct materials that have specific characteristics and qualities. Iron is a pure mineral and steel is an alloy material that contains a percentage of carbon.  Depending on the amount of carbon mixed with iron, different products emerge, and this includes creation of steel. 

Steel is a far stronger material and there is no better metal at this time that is used when strength and cost are major factors.

 

The SR-71 Blackbird: A Story of Remarkable Innovation

Artist's illustration of the SR-71 aircraft
Computer-generated 3D illustration of the Strategic Reconnaissance Aircraft SR-71 Blackbird. Photo: iStock

The Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird is one of history’s most iconic spy planes. Also known as the “Black Widow” for its unique appearance, this aircraft still stands as an impressive feat of aeronautical engineering. It holds many speed and altitude records that have yet to be broken, and there is much more than meets the eye with this plane…

The Origins of the SR-71 

U2 Spy Plane in the air
U2 Spy Plane. Photo: Wikipedia/USAF Public Domain

Before this immortal aircraft was developed, the United States relied on the famous U2 spycraft for its Cold War reconnaissance. On May 1, 1960, a U2 was spotted deep inside Russian territory, but the US was not concerned as they believed that this aircraft was impenetrable to Soviet air defenses due to its high-altitude flight. They were wrong. 

A Soviet V-750 surface-to-air missile shot down the spy plane. The pilot, Francis Gary Powers, who took off from a secret US airbase in Pakistan, parachuted to the ground safely but was immediately captured by Soviet authorities and taken prisoner. 

He was later released after a mutual prisoner swap between the United States and Russia; however, it was quite clear that something else had to be done if the US wanted (and needed) to continue its reconnaissance over Russia and other foreign lands without the concern of the aircraft being shot down.

Corona Spy Satellite

Corona spy satellite illustration
Illustration of the Corona Spy Satellite. Photo: Wikipedia/National Reconnaissance Office, Public Domain

The United States began an ambitious project for U2’s successor. The Corona spy satellite program was one of the first. It proved amazingly successful in August of 1960 after it was able to photograph many parts of Soviet territory.

What’s even more amazing was that the pictures that the plane took were sent back to earth and successfully salvaged, resulting in an abundance of intelligence well needed as this cold war intensified. The Corona program ended in 1972.

A-12 Spy Plane

A-12 Prototype Spy Plane in the Air
A-12 Prototype. Photo: By U.S.Air Force – Defense Visual Information Center (DVIC)

The CIA contracted Lockheed to develop a new plane that would surpass U2’s functionalities in every way. The Lockheed A-12  was born.

This prototype spawned some variants. The YF-12A Interceptor, which was designed to replace the F-106 Delta Dart Interceptor/ fighter, and the SR-71 Blackbird, was designed not as a fighter jet, but as a high-speed reconnaissance aircraft.

The YF-12A was built and tested but the Air Force decided to go for the F-111 fighter/bomber; however, the SR-71 was commissioned and 32 Blackbirds were eventually built.

The SR-71 was outfitted with all the advanced concepts from its A-12 parent, as well as the necessary devices (cameras and supporting equipment) for its intelligence mission to fly over foreign territory (namely the Soviet Union). This plane was able to fly much higher than the U2 and it flew four times faster. To this day, no aircraft has surpassed the speed of the SR-71 Blackbird.

Enter Skunk Works

Assembly line of the SR-71 Blackbird at Skunk Works
Assembly line of the SR-71 Blackbird at Skunk Works. Photo: Wikipedia Public Domain

This top-secret R&D group within Lockheed Corporation began during WWII to research advanced fighter aircraft, but its true meaning did not materialize until after the U2 was shot down.

As mentioned, it was evident that a more sophisticated aircraft that would be able to avoid Soviet planes and missiles, as well as being less vulnerable to radar signatures were required, or to put it another way, this new prototype had to be faster, higher, and stealthier than any other aircraft currently in existence at the time. The Skunk Works design team was tasked with creating this advanced aircraft. 

Development of the SR-71

Pratt & Whitney Engine for the SR-71
The Pratt & Whitney J58 engine powered the SR-71 Blackbird. Photo: iStock

The design that Skunk Works had come up with was a radical break from conventional aircraft design. This plane would have a long, curved nose that would house a long-range camera and a shorter curved section behind that would house the pilot.

The idea behind this design was that it would significantly reduce the plane’s radar cross-section. Most of the aircraft’s volume would be behind the center of gravity, making the aircraft “lighter” from the perspective of radar. This would reduce the aircraft’s weight and make it fly even faster.

The plane would also be designed to minimize airflow, reducing drag and increasing speed. And all of this would be done with a plane that could carry almost 10,000 pounds of fuel and up to 10,000 pounds of payload. 

Its futuristic profile made it difficult to detect on radar. Even the black paint used, full of radar-absorbing iron, helped hide its existence from the Russian radar defenses. Due to the plane’s unique design, some engineers viewed it as more of a spaceship than an aircraft. 

The mineral titanium was one of the main reasons for the SR-71’s success. This metal is almost as strong as steel but lightweight enough not to allow the plane to fly and maneuver very well. Titanium is also able to withstand enormous temperatures when flying at 2,200 mph (3,540 kph). 

And all this was done before digital functionality became commonplace.

Titanium and the Soviet Union

Photo of titanium
Titanium in Alloy Form. Photo: iStock

Even though titanium is the ninth most common element in the earth’s crust, its resources are lacking in the United States. And ironically, all the places where this mineral is abundant are in the Russian territories, so the United States created dummy companies to hide who was purchasing this needed mineral.

The result was that the US succeeded in importing titanium from right under the nose of the Soviets, and used it to build an aircraft that would eventually fly over their land and spy on them. How ironic!

Specifications of the SR-71 Blackbird

Inside SR-71
The cockpit of the SR-71. The display is all analog. Photo: iStock

This aircraft was truly an extraordinary feat of engineering, and it had many specifications that would go on to set records and even become standards for future planes.

It had a crew of one and could fly at Mach 3.2 (2,455 MPH) at a height of 85,000 feet. That is almost halfway into the Earth’s stratosphere, and with a fuel capacity of 36,000 pounds, it could fly for over 2,500 miles without having to refuel. 

Because it was designed to fly at very high altitudes, the SR-71 was pressurized, allowing the pilot to fly without a spacesuit. While flying at those altitudes, the plane would also be able to fly through weather that other aircraft could not fly in. 

How Fast is the SR-71?

Computer generated 3D illustration with the American Reconnaissance Aircraft SR-71
Computer-generated illustration of the SR-71 Reconnaissance Aircraft SR-71. Photo: iStock

As mentioned this aircraft could fly at Mach 3.2. That’s faster than a bullet! Because the plane was streamlined, it was able to fly at those speeds without creating dangerously high pressures on the airframe. And this meant that the aircraft was able to maintain its altitude without using a lot of fuel to keep itself aloft.

This was a massive advantage for the SR-71, as it would let the aircraft fly for hours before needing to refuel. The speed record was set by retired Air Force colonel Bob Gilliland, who flew it from New York to London in 64 minutes, smashing the previous record. This equates to an average speed of 2,189 mph, which is still faster than any aircraft in service today.

Other Innovations by the Blackbird

As if breaking speed and altitude records weren’t impressive enough, the SR-71 also pioneered many other technologies that are still in use today. Here are some examples.

    • The SR-71 used a special fuel to cool itself, which is now used in many modern engines.
    • It had a special paint that didn’t reflect visible light or infrared light, making it incredibly stealthy.
    • The plane’s cockpit was also extremely advanced, with a heads-up display that projected critical information directly onto the windshield.
    • The navigation system was revolutionary, using Doppler beacons to accurately calculate the plane’s position.
    • The plane’s way of communicating with ground control stations was unlike anything used before. It had a special method of transmitting information as bursts of radio waves that could be received by a single ground station at a time. This was necessary because the aircraft had no way of knowing which ground station it was closest to.
    • The plane had a special method of using the airflow over the aircraft to cool its engines, which was necessary to prevent them from overheating at the plane’s high speeds.

Conclusion

The SR-71 Blackbird was one of the most advanced aircraft ever created. It pushed the boundaries of aeronautical engineering, and even in the modern digital age, it is still a very impressive machine.

This supersonic aeronautic advancement was extremely efficient and could travel long distances at supersonic speeds while carrying heavy payloads.  It was also extremely stealthy, making it a difficult target to see and track.

Despite having been decommissioned in the 1990s, the SR-71 still holds much impressive speed and altitude records. It truly is one of the most impressive aircraft ever created and deserves its place as a legend in aviation history.

 

7 Buildings that Use Cantilever Architecture

Citicorp Tower looking up
Citicorp Tower, NYC. Photo: Wikimedia CC

In the 19th century, with the advent of structural steel, engineers began using cantilevers to construct taller buildings. This type of architecture is primarily used when there isn’t enough space on one side of a structure for its foundation. Engineers have to build the foundation out from one side and then use beams that extended from it to support the weight. 

This construction style is eye-catching and certainly more daring than other methods of building. It also requires serious engineering skills, as well as a detailed understanding of how much weight the beams can bear without giving way. Indeed, the correct structural engineering is imperative as just a small miscalculation in the production of steel and concrete can result in catastrophe.

‍If you live in a big city, you might have noticed that more buildings are being built with these overhangs. This is especially true for cities where space is at a premium, such as New York City.  In this article, we are going to take office building construction to a whole new level – the use of cantilevers!

The Citicorp Center, New York City

Citicorp Tower cantilevers
Citicorp Tower cantilevers. Photo: Wikimedia CC

​If there was ever a building that emphasised cantilever design it would be the Citicorp Center in midtown Manhattan. Completed in 1977, the 59-story, 915-foot-high skyscraper sits on three stilts with an internal core at the center.

The building is ​structurally sound now; however, thanks to an observant doctoral student at Princeton University, a discrepancy was discovered when wind forces hit particular angles of the building.

In 1978, Diane Hartley, who was writing a structural engineering thesis, found that the engineer’s calculations did not match hers, which was disturbing since it indicated a possibly dangerous situation.

Should a strong wind ​happen​ to hit the building’s corners, the possibility of the building toppling over had a chance of collapse. It was a one-in-16 chance, but the danger still existed.

Hartly proceeded to notify William LeMessurier, who was the chief structural engineer. He checked her math and realized she was correct.

Quietly, LeMessurier proceeded to correct the issue. In ​coordination with the NYP​​D, an evacuation plan was enacted, which covered a ten-block radius. An evacuation almost materialized as a hurricane was forecast to be heading towards NYC. Hurricane Ella was on its way but moved away from the city at the eleventh hour.

Interestingly enough, word did not get out about this until 1995 when it was published in the New Yorker Magazine.

In addition to the skyscraper’s unusual cantilevered design, the developers used their ingenuity to build a large solar panel at the top of the structure; hence, the slanted roof at the top points south. But the idea never materialized, the slanted roof remains as an esthetic addition to the building.

The Rotterdam Tower

De_Rotterdam Tower showing cantilevered construction
Photo: Wikipedia-CC

This intriguing building is located in the Netherlands and is part of the Erasmus Bridge Complex. It is a mixed-use building that houses offices, a hotel, and apartments. The building has a cantilever design, which is why the residents can enjoy a gorgeous view of the river

The architects designed the building so that it extends out over the river and almost touches the bridge. They also designed it so that it is taller on one side. The weight of this building is distributed between its central core and its cantilever, which is why it can be so tall without the ground beneath it being affected.

Statoil Regional and International Offices

Statoil is an energy producer in Norway and the 57th largest company in the world. Norwegian architects A-Lab designed a 117,000-square-meter commercial building complex that fits into the picturesque shoreline of Fornebu in perfect harmony.

Additionally, this architectural expression injects new energy into the nearby park and commercial area and was a key challenge in their design. Of course, it is the overhangs that make the building stand out. They stretch up to 100 feet in many directions.

Marina Bay Sands Hotel

The Marina Bay Sands Hotel is considered one of the most impressive hotels in the world. It is a massive construction project that began in 2003 and was completed in 2011. The project was a collaboration between the Las Vegas Sands Corporation and the Singapore government and was built on the site of a former shipyard. The hotel has three 55-story towers. but in addition to these buildings, it has a sky park that is cantilevered over all three towers.

Designed by Israeli architect Moshe Safdie,  the hotel has 2,500 rooms and a lobby that crosses the entire three buildings just like the sky park above.

Marina Bay Sands Hotel Sinagpore

Marina Bay Sands Hotel by architect Moshe Safdie. Photo by Julien de Salaberry on Unsplash

Building the Hotel

One of the most interesting aspects of the construction of the hotel was that developers used an unusual design that allowed them to build upwards while keeping the foundations stable.

This was necessary because Singapore is located on a floodplain, and it is impossible to build foundations below ground level, so the engineers designed the foundation so that the bottom of the hotel would be constructed on a metal mesh, which would be anchored to the ground. The mesh would keep the foundation stable while allowing sand and water to flow freely through it. The foundation is built in modular sections, which can be raised and lowered as necessary. The builders also used a system of shuttles to transport construction materials to the upper floors of the hotel, as well as the rooftop.

Lessons Learned from MBS’s Construction

As we have seen, the construction of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel was a challenge. It is rare for the ground to shift so dramatically in an area where there is no flooding, and it is even more unusual for builders to build on top of a metal foundation. Although this construction project was unique, it still provides some important lessons for other builders.

The first is that challenges are an inevitable part of construction, and there are always several factors that have to be taken into account. The second is that challenges should not be seen as a reason to abandon the project. When building on the water, the builders of the Marina Bay Sands had to be flexible, and ready to make adjustments at any time. If they had been too rigid, they may not have been able to proceed with the project at all.

One Vanderbilt – New York City

Vanderbilt Office Building under construction
Vanderbilt Office Building under construction. Photo: ©SMS

With space so much at a premium in this city, the only way to build is up, and even then, it might not be enough to encompass the amount of office space that the developers envisioned for the Vanderbilt tower.

Located across from Grand Central Terminal, it is the fourth tallest building in NYC, rising 1,401 feet above the ground. On the south and west sides, it is cantilevered over Vanderbilt Ave. and 42nd Street respectively, and this overhang starts at only approximately 50 feet up and then supports the rest of the superstructure. There is an observatory at the top, which is the 5th observatory in Manhattan. 

Other skyscrapers with noticeable cantilevered construction in New York include Central Park Tower and the Citicorp Headquarters, displayed above. 

J. P. Morgan Chase Headquarters – New York City

Steel Cantilever at Chase Bank Headquarters
Steel Cantilever at Chase Bank Headquarters Under Construction. Photo: ©SMS

Also known as 270 Park Ave., this 1,388-foot-tall, 70-story, 2.5 million-square-foot super tower is located between Park and Madison Avenues, and 47th and 48th Streets.

This massive building will be supported, in part by steel cantilever columns that protrude diagonally out on the eastern and western sides of the building.

Interestingly, the building is replacing the former Union Carbide 52- story tower (later bought by Chase) that was previously there. The building was completely demolished, which made it the largest intentionally demolished building in the world.

The new Chase headquarters will have zero carbon emissions and will be 100% powered by New York hydropower in upstate NY, which produces electricity completely from flowing water.

No doubt, this will be one of New York’s most advanced skyscrapers.

Frank Gehry’s Chiat/Day Building

Binoculars Building, Los Angeles
Binoculars Building, Los Angeles, CA. Photo: Wikimedia CC

This building is a former office building in Los Angeles, California that was converted into a mixed-use building. It is now home to a variety of businesses, as well as the famous advertising agency Chiat/Day.

Designed by notable architect Frank Gehry, this building with a cantilever on one side so that it could house all of the businesses. They designed the cantilever so that it wouldn’t cause damage to the building’s foundations.

The building’s cantilever also allowed designers to create an interesting façade. They were able to extend the second floor out so that it creates a terrace, which is accessible from the sidewalk.

Summing Up

The cantilever is an interesting architectural feature that many people likely do not think about as they walk under these overhangs, but it is a complex engineering solution that isn’t suitable for every project; however, in these examples, it works brilliantly.

While they may be pretty to look at, they also serve a critical function, which makes them a necessity. While the specific structural design of each cantilever will vary depending on the building type, design, and geographic location, the overall concept is the same.

 

 

James Webb Telescope – What is it?

Carina Nebula
NGC 3324 in the Carina Nebula Star-forming region from James Webb. Photo: NASA Public Domain

A Giant Feat for Mankind

By far, the most extraordinary images from outer space that have ever been received have come from the James Webb telescope. As the successor to the famous Hubble Space Telescope, the James Webb is the most powerful space observatory ever built, with far more potential than anything that has come before it.

Launched on Christmas Day, 2021 on the Ariane 5 rocket, this giant observatory, the size of a tennis court, is currently in L2 Orbit, located 1.5 million miles from Earth, sending extraordinary images of objects from as back into time as when the big bang started -13.7 years ago. 

To understand why this matters so much to humanity, we first have to understand what the JWST is not. It is not a souped-up version of the Hubble; nor is it an alternative to Hubble — something different but still essentially the same.

Instead, the JWST represents a completely new paradigm in design and function for a space-based optical telescope. In other words: It’s like nothing we’ve ever seen before.

How Does the JWST Differ from Hubble?

James Webb Telescope
JWST in space near Earth. James Webb telescope far galaxies and planets explore. Photo: iStock

The two telescopes, while both space-based observatories are very different in two significant categories.

    • Mirror size
    • Light spectrum

Size Does Matter!

There is a major difference between the JWST mirrors and the Hubble’s mirrors in size. As discussed further in the article, the bigger the mirror, the further back into space we can see.

James Webb Telescope mirrors compared to Hubble's mirrors
James Webb Telescope mirrors compared to Hubble’s mirrors. Photo: Nasa.gov

As a result, this amazing observatory is also about 10 times more powerful than Hubble, with a much wider field of view — and, therefore, able to observe more objects.

Electromatic (Light) Spectrum

The JWST is designed to observe light in infrared wavelengths. Being able to see objects not usually visible to humans, whereas Hubble primarily observes visible and ultraviolet light. 

This is significant because only a very small percentage of the universe’s atoms emit visible light, while almost all atoms emit infrared light. As such, the JWST — in conjunction with other telescopes that are observed in other wavelengths allows us to view a much bigger chunk of the universe than Hubble ever could.

In addition to infrared, the JWST also has a small segment that observes a type of ultraviolet light that is inaccessible to Hubble.

Why is the JWST Important?

The JWST is a completely different kind of telescope that exploits a different approach to astronomy and will, therefore, produce many different results.

With its ability to detect light from the first stars that ever formed in the universe and the first galaxies that ever formed after the Big Bang, it will, for the first time, give us a comprehensive picture of the evolution of the cosmos. 

The JWST will also allow us to look for the earliest signs of life beyond our planet and, as such, represents a major step on humanity’s path toward enlightenment, as well as a greater understanding of who, what, and where we are.

The Telescope Assembly

The observatory is primarily composed of three components:

    •  Integrated Science Instrument Module (ISIM)
    • The Spacecraft Element
    • The Optical Telescope Element (OTE)

Integrated Science Instrument Module

This is where the infrared components are. It contains the infrared camera and the spectrograph (device which separates incoming light by its wavelength (frequency).

 

James Webb Infrared Component
James Webb Infrared System. Photo: NASA

The Fine Guidance Sensor/ Near InfraRed Imager and Slitless Spectrograph are used to pinpoint the locations that the JWSP will look at.

The Optical Telescope Element (OTE)

This is where the mirrors are contained. The mirrors are the most significant part of the telescope. Simply put, the larger the mirror, the further back in space we can see and with greater detail,  More specifically, the size of the mirror is directly proportional to the sensitivity (detail) that the telescope can display. The larger it is, the more detail it will show.

This amazing high-tech instrument consists of hexagonal-shaped mirror segments that measure over 4.2 feet across and weighs approximately 88 pounds. It has 18 primary segments that work in symmetry together to produce one large 21.3-foot mirror.

The mirrors are made of ultra-lightweight beryllium, which was chosen due to their thermal and mechanical properties at cryogenic (low) temperatures, as well as beryllium’s weight which made it a lot easier to lift it into space.

James Webb mirror assembly
James Webb mirror assembly. Each segment has a thin gold coating chosen for its ability to reflect infrared light. The largest feature is the five-layer 80 feet long and 30 feet wide sun shield that dissipates heat from the sun more than a million times. Photo: NASA

“The James Webb Space Telescope will be the premier astronomical observatory of the next decade,” said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “This first-mirror installation milestone symbolizes all the new and specialized technology that was developed to enable the observatory to study the first stars and galaxies, examine the formation of stellar systems and planetary formation, provide answers to the evolution of our solar system, and make the next big steps in the search for life beyond Earth on exoplanets.

Amazingly, the mirrors will fold to fit into the spacecraft and then unfold when ejected into outer space.

After a tremendous amount of work by an incredibly dedicated team across the country, it is very exciting to start the primary mirror segment installation process,” said Lee Feinberg, James Webb Space Telescope optical telescope element manager at Goddard. “This starts the final assembly phase of the telescope.”

Bill Ochs, James Webb Space Telescope project manager said “There have many significant achievements for Webb over the past year, but the installation of the first flight mirror is special. This installation not only represents another step towards the magnificent discoveries to come from Webb but also the culmination of many years of effort by an outstanding dedicated team of engineers and scientists.”

The Spacecraft Element

Something must power this system and the spacecraft element is what does it. It supplies the rocket thrusters, propulsion system, communications, and all the electrical power needed to make this run as awell-oiledd machine.

Where are We Now?

SMACS 0723A galaxy cluster. Furthers image recorded from James Webb telescope
Deepest Infrared Image of the Universe Ever Taken. Photo: NASA Public Domain 

We will leave you with this. Galaxy cluster SMACS 0723, which contains thousands of galaxies is 4.6 billion light years away.

That means that we are looking at it the way it looked 4.6 billion years ago. Scientists have a lot of work ahead of them and who knows what they’ll find?