The James Webb Space Telescope, the largest telescope ever built, opens up a giant mirror to peer into the universe.
Astronomy and space enthusiasts around the world can breathe a sigh of relief: James Webb . Space Telescope is now fully implemented.
NASA’s $10 billion observatory has opened its second “wing” large main mirror today (January 8), brings the light-collecting structure to full size and marks the end of the long, risky, and extremely complex deployment phase of the mission.
When the last mirror segment was folded back into place just before 10:30 a.m. EST (1530 GMT), Webb space telescope controllers traded high and clapped in celebration. NASA officials say it will take about two hours to lock the mirror segment in place.
“What an incredible milestone,” Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s science administrator, from Switzerland, said in a live webcast. “We see that beautiful pattern in the sky now, almost complete… I’m really surprised and amazed by this.”
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After Webb launched into space on December 25, the normally clean-shaven Zurbuchen pledged not to shave until its hair-raising deployment was complete.
“I fully look forward to shaving today,” Zurbuchen said.
For their part, the mission team seems to have eased the tension of today’s final deployment by streaming music into their mission operations center at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland. Among their musical selections is “Ring My Bell” by Anita Ward.
“I just feel this kind of light, you know, in my chest right now just seeing that mirror deployed together,” said NASA astrophysicist Michelle Thaller, TV show host direct implementation of the agency’s Webb mirror said. The size of the mirror would give Webb and humanity “the chance to see the universe as it was perhaps just 100 million years after the Big Bang began.”
Webb launched on Christmas day on the universe’s first star and galaxy observation mission, sniffing the air of nearby alien planets for intriguing chemistry, and performing many other high-profile missions. But raising the speed of the observatory required some serious work.
Webb is optimized to view the universe in infrared light, a wavelength that we feel like heat. The telescope’s optics and instruments must be kept at extremely cold temperatures to pick up these weak heat signatures, so Webb fitted a five-layer sunshade the size of a tennis court to reflect and solar radiation.
The fully extended sunshade is too large to fit the protective payload frame of any currently active rocket, so the structure is launched in a very compact configuration. Webb’s 21.3-foot (6.5-meter) wide main mirror, consisting of 18 gilded hexagonal segments, is arranged on a central pillar and two side wings.
As a result, Webb’s implementation phase was heavily involved.
“The Webb Observatory has 50 major deployments … and 178 release mechanisms to deploy those 50,” says Webb Mission Systems Engineer Mike Menzel, of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt , Maryland, said in an explanatory video titled “29 days on the sidelines“which the agency posted in October.
“Every single one of them has to work,” Menzel said. “Unpacking Webb is the most complex spacecraft operation we’ve ever performed.”
On Saturday, mission engineers can breathe a sigh of relief.
“178 of 178. Congratulations,” Webb’s mission operations manager told the team after the cloning was rolled out, marking the last of those non-redundant release mechanism quests.
The sunshade structure alone has 140 release mechanisms, 70 hinge assemblies, 400 pulleys, 90 cables and eight deployed motors, mission team members said. All of them work perfectly in sun visor extension, which started three days after launch and took about a week.
Deploying Webb’s mirror is also a multi-step process. On Wednesday (January 5), the mission team locked onto the observatory’s 2.4-foot (0.74 m)-wide secondary mirror, the second surface that photons in deep space would hit. on the way to Webb’s four scientific instruments.
Gate or left, wing of main mirror was launched on friday (January 7). The right wing continues today.
All of these deployments were made while Webb flew toward its final destination, a gravitationally stable point about 930,000 miles (1.5 million km) from our planet known as Earth-sun’s Lagrange Point 2 (L2). At L2, Webb can stay aligned with the sun, Earth, and moon, allowing its sunshade to continuously block the light and heat radiating from those celestial bodies.
About 29 days after launch — so, on or around January 23 — Webb will perform an engine igniting that sends it into orbit around L2. But the telescope is not yet ready to begin observing.
The mission team will still have to test and calibrate Webb’s four scientific instruments and precisely align segments of the main mirror so that it acts as a single, near-perfect light-collecting surface. This work is expected to take five months or so.
If all goes according to plan, Webb – a joint effort of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency – will begin its much-anticipated science mission at the end of June or early July and continue to observe the universe for at least 5 years.
Mike Wall is the author of “Out there“(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow them on Twitter @Spacedotcom or above Facebook.
https://www.space.com/james-webb-space-telescope-fully-deployed The James Webb Space Telescope, the largest telescope ever built, opens up a giant mirror to peer into the universe.