NASA’s James Webb Telescope Successfully Completes Deployment in Space.So what's next for the biggest observatory off Earth?

 

An artist's illustration of NASA's James Webb Space Telescope fully unfolded. There is more work ahead after the observatory's deployment before it begins studying the universe.
An artist's illustration of NASA's James Webb Space Telescope fully unfolded. There is more
 work ahead after the observatory's deployment before it begins studying the universe.  
(Image credit: ESA)

The James Webb Space Telescope project, is just getting started.

After a grueling deployment that NASA has dubbed one of its most challenging ever, the last main mirror component of the most giant space telescope ever constructed was successfully unfurled on Saturday (January 8). This mission's primary focus is on putting major pieces of NASA's Webb Observatory online so that astronomers may begin using it.

As soon as January 23, Webb is projected to arrive at its "insertion point," placing it in the proper position for its engines to begin gliding to a "parking area" known as Earth-sun Lagrange Point 2 (L2), which is 930,000 miles distant from our planet. The sun, Earth, and Moon are almost perfectly aligned while Webb is in the correct zone, so it uses very little fuel to remain in position.

Related:James Webb Space Telescope has unfolded 1st wing of its audacious golden mirror.


There will be more than simply space movements that the control teams will have to deal with. Webb still has a long way to go in its commissioning process, and NASA has emphasized the need to monitor the alignment of the mirror and the readiness of the spacecraft's sensors in the coming weeks.

The engineering team for NASA's James Webb Space Telescope celebrates at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimor, Maryland as the observatory completed unfolding its primary mirror on Jan. 8, 2022.
The engineering team for NASA's James Webb Space Telescope celebrates at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimor, Maryland as the observatory completed unfolding its primary mirror on Jan. 8, 2022. (Image credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)


NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center's John Durning, Webb's deputy project manager, told reporters on Saturday (January 8) that the crew would spend the next 15 days synchronizing the 18 mirror pieces to "basically act as one mirror" as they prepare for the engine burn, which is scheduled for February 1.

Aside from that, Durning said that Webb would begin playing instruments within a week or two. Engineers will start turning on different devices once the instruments reach a chilly enough temperature in L2.

Related:To stay cool, the James Webb Space Telescope deploys a radiator.


Located in L2, Webb is well suited to its mission. Webb will be able to conduct heat-seeking infrared studies at night because of the distance from the sun and the use of a sunshield. On its journey to comprehend the universe and its development, the telescope will be able to peep through the dust to look at objects such as newborn exoplanets or the interior of distant galaxies.

According to NASA
, a near-infrared camera, a near-infrared spectrograph, a mid-infrared instrument, and an exemplary guidance sensor and spectrograph combined are among the four science instruments aboard Webb. These instruments will enable observations in the visible, near-infrared, and mid-infrared ranges (0.6 to 28.5 micrometers).

Durning said that "each instrument has its own set of milestones." "Temperature calibration will be difficult to ensure that everything is aligned after it reaches the desired temperature.

In the press briefing, Lee Feinberg, Webb's optical telescope element manager at Goddard, said mirror deployment would begin on Tuesday (January 11). Feinberg estimates that it will take 10 to 12 days to "move all of the mirrors forward by around half an inch, and that puts them in a position where we can complete the thorough optical alignment" due to the pressures of launch.

After around three months, the telescope will be ready to capture its first test picture as part of the basic alignment procedure. Because the telescope hasn't been appropriately oriented yet, the initial photographs are likely to be hazy. More imaging and testing are needed to make this arrangement correct.

Related:James Webb Space Telescope nails secondary mirror deployment.


Depending on how the commissioning process goes, Durning believes the complete telescope will be aligned around day 120, which would place the full alignment date around April 24.

As he went on to explain, "several instruments will be turned on and used to align the telescope and further improve the telescope" by the various instrument team partners, "instrument commissioning will take place in tandem with that."

A manufacturing flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope caused it to launch in 1990 with a kind of myopia that had to be repaired. Thus fuzzy pictures from space telescopes have a certain amount of historical sensitivity. Low-Earth orbit makes Hubble accessible to astronauts aboard the space shuttle for maintenance and upgrades. Webb will be too far away for this kind of labor, and it will have to be done by remote control.


Jane Rigby, Webb operations project scientist at Goddard, told reporters that "we start with the mirrors off by millimeters and we are forcing them to be aligned to within less than the size of a coronavirus, to tens of nanometers."

"It takes a long time because of how methodical the procedure is. It's important to point out that the initial photographs we capture show that this telescope isn't ready to go when it arrives. In the beginning, the visuals will be unappealing. There will be a lot of fuzziness. 18 of these little pictures will spread over the sky, and we'll have to fit all of them into a single telescope.

I like to imagine that we have 18 mirrors right now, all singing their own song, in whatever key they're in," Rigby said. "It's like we have 18 tiny prima donnas." Creating a chorus is a "methodical, arduous operation," according to the narrator.


An animation shows the orbit of the James Webb Space Telescope around Lagrange point 2, or L2.
An animation shows the orbit of the James Webb Space Telescope around Lagrange point 2, or L2.  
(Image credit: NASA)


Rigby said the team intends a series of "wow shots" to demonstrate the telescope's potential as commissioning comes to a finish. However, Rigby said that the purpose of these initial images is to "showcase all four scientific equipment and to really blow everybody's socks off." Those first targets have not yet been made public.

Press conference authorities said that the telescope's capacity to display subtle shades of luminosity, or intrinsic brightness, would be tested by taking photos of objects such as stars (to ensure accurate alignment) and the Large Magellanic Cloud.

Immediately after commissioning (which should take around six months), there will be a five-month "early release scientific programs" phase, including a set of six areas of investigation spanning from planet formation to stellar physics.

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