James Webb Space Telescope nails secondary mirror deployment.

 

James Webb Space Telescope's operators can monitor the observatory's deployment via a visualization tool that receives telemetry data from the spacecraft. (Image credit: NASA)
James Webb Space Telescope's operators can monitor the observatory's deployment via a visualization tool that receives telemetry data from the spacecraft. (Image credit: NASA)

With today's successful extension of the secondary mirror, the James Webb Space Telescope has reached another significant milestone on its journey to the International Space Station.

The primary mirror is flanked by a secondary, 0.74-meter-wide mirror mounted on a tripod. An aperture in the gold-coated primary mirror's center focuses on light captured by this prism. The third mirror reflects the morning to the telescope's equipment via this aperture.

When the secondary mirror was stored on top of the primary mirror, it was supported by three 8-meter-long legs.

At the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Webb's operations center, operators on Wednesday (Jan. 5) removed the latches that held the legs in place during launch. They began the deployment technique by first making a modest motion to confirm the motors appropriately operated. Then, they started the 10-minute process of extending and dropping the legs into position. NASA broadcast the maneuver live on their television channel with comments.

This animation of the James Webb Space Telescope shows how light is reflected from its mirrors onto its scientific instruments. (Image credit: NASA)
This animation of the James Webb Space Telescope shows how light is reflected from its mirrors onto its scientific instruments. (Image credit: NASA)

Around 11:25am, the confirmation that the mirror had been installed came (1630 GMT). It took another 30 minutes for the operators to secure the tripod with several latches, ensuring its stability for at least the ten-year scientific mission of Webb.

"This is beyond comprehension. We are currently at a distance of around 600,000 miles [1 million kilometers] from Earth, and we have a telescope, which will allow us to look back at the distant stars "According to NASA project manager Bill Ochs, the James Webb Space Telescope will be launched in 2018. "So, on behalf of everyone, thank you."

A NASA Goddard official said that once the latch is set, "it's done. We don't come back and tweak this again." Julie van Campen is the deputy commissioning manager for Webb.

James Webb Space Telescope's operators can monitor the observatory's deployment via a visualization tool that receives telemetry data from the spacecraft. (Image credit: NASA)
James Webb Space Telescope's operators can monitor the observatory's deployment via a visualization tool that receives telemetry data from the spacecraft. (Image credit: NASA)

The telescope's rear has a radiator that will be unpacked on Thursday (Jan. 6) to help cool the scientific equipment. After that, they'll assemble the primary 21-foot (6.4 m) mirror, which had to be folded for launch because of its dimensions.

This first week following launch was dedicated to deploying the solar array, communication network, and sunscreen, according to van Campen. "We've now shifted gears to focus on the telescope's optical components. After that, we'll switch gears once again and concentrate on the scientific equipment for the last phase of commissioning."

 

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The process of deploying the telescope was fraught with anxiety, with some saying it was "nerve-wracking" in nature. Astronomer James Webb's goal of seeing the earliest stars and galaxies to develop in the cosmos after the Big Bang needed an observatory of extraordinary scale and complexity. As a result, the telescope is enormous, making it impossible to launch it using an existing rocket without first folding it up. Engineers and technology were tested, resulting in a slew of creative technical solutions. It has never previously been employed in space for telescopes to self-assemble like a transformer in the sky. However, the years-long testing effort is beginning to bear fruit.

According to van Campen, "it's worked really well over the last 12 days.". "As we wait to see how things turn out, we've experienced both highs and lows. Even so, things have been going rather well and we've really managed to be ahead of schedule."

By this year's summer, the telescope will be ready for scientific use. Webb's operating temperature of - 400 degrees Fahrenheit will be reached in more than 100 days (minus 235 degrees Celsius). The telescope will only detect the weakest infrared emissions from the furthest stars and galaxies at such severe cold.

Because of the sun shield, no present camera equipment can be used to monitor the deployments visually, Van Campen explains. Cameras may potentially interfere with scientific findings due to electronic interference. Instead, the telescope's telemetry data is sent into a computer-based visualization tool.


As of this writing, the telescope is 930,000 miles (1.5 million kilometers) from Earth's Lagrange Point 2. At L2, Webb will be in a stable orbit around the sun, concealed behind Earth due to the delicate interaction of the two bodies' gravitational forces.

A fully operational telescope will arrive at its final site by the end of January. Insights into star and planet formation, the chemistry of exoplanets, and the behavior of comets and asteroids in the solar system's periphery will be made possible by this $10 billion project, the most sophisticated and costly space observatory ever constructed.

 

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