NASA had a better weekend than most. The James Webb space telescope, following several lengthy delays, launched into space in December last year. And, over the weekend, the telescope’s final deployment successfully took place.
The James Webb space telescope finished opening up its 21-foot-wide, gold-plated primary mirror over the weekend. Previous operations saw the ‘scope’s sun shield deployed, in order to protect the very sensitive optical hardware. But there’s much more to do still.
Caught in NASA’s Webb
Though NASA’s managed to get its shiny new telescope opened up, it’s still due for alignment. The James Webb’s primary mirror is made up of eighteen different segments. These have to all be aligned, essentially focusing the telescope. The procedure will take months, and involves NASA remotely operating some 126 actuators to ‘flex’ individual segments.
After that, there’s still calibration to be done. But first, there’s a mid-course correction burn to be done — the telescope’s third. This will place it firmly at L2, the second Lagrange point, about 1.5 million kilometres from our planet. Once there, it’ll hang around doing science and taking photographs using “… infrared light from celestial objects, with much higher resolution than ever before”.
NASA head Bill Nelson said, “The James Webb Space Telescope is an unprecedented mission that is on the precipice of seeing the light from the first galaxies and discovering the mysteries of our universe. Each feat already achieved and future accomplishment is a testament to the thousands of innovators who poured their life’s passion into this mission.”
We can expect the first images from James Webb sometime around the middle of the year. You can bet that NASA will make a huge deal of whatever they manage to capture from this ambitious (and nerve-wracking) space mission.