The £8.25billion ($10billion) James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is the biggest and most complex scientific instrument ever built. With the groundbreaking design and complexity come many challenges, such as how will NASA launch the telescope into space? The JWST, which has a payload mass of about 6.2 tonnes, is pencilled in to launch next year aboard an Ariane 5 rocket.
But the JWST is too big for any rocket to launch and has to be folded up and stowed away to fit inside of the Ariane 5’s payload fairing.
Once in space, the JWST will slowly unfold and stretch out its components in a very delicate operation.
Bill Ochs, Webb project manager for NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, said: “The James Webb Space Telescope achieved another significant milestone with the entire observatory in its launch configuration for the first time, in preparation for environmental testing.
“I am very proud of the entire Northrop Grumman and NASA integration and test team.
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“This accomplishment demonstrates the outstanding dedication and diligence of the team in such trying times due to COVID-19.”
The space telescope is now fully assembled and NASA’s teams will test each of its components.
The teams will test the telescope for acoustics and vibrations, among other factors.
After a series of tests is completed, the telescope will be deployed one last time before it is primed for launch.
The telescope will blast off from the Guiana Space Centre, French Guiana, a French and European spaceport.
The James Webb Space Telescope achieved another significant milestone
Bill Ochs, Webb project manager
Gregory L Robinson, the Webb program director at NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC, said: “While operating under augmented personal safety measures because of the novel coronavirus, the project continues to make good progress and achieve significant milestones in preparation for upcoming environmental testing.
“Team member safety continues to be our highest priority as the project takes precautions to protect Webb’s hardware and continue with integration and testing.
“NASA will continually assess the project’s schedule and adjust decisions as the situation evolves.”
The space telescope’s main feature is a 270 square foot (25 square metres) gold-plated, segmented primary mirror.
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The mirror is comprised of 18 hexagonal segments made of beryllium and coated with gold.
The mirror will focus light towards a secondary mirror mounted on a frame.
The telescope also features a multi-layered sun shield that will unfold in space.
The five-layered shield will protect the telescope from the Sun’s heat and light.
According to NASA, the telescope will look back in time to the earliest days of the universe, by observing celestial bodies whose light has travelled towards us for billions of years.
The space telescope might also find signatures of alien life on distant exoplanets by detecting worlds with habitable atmospheres.
NASA said: “The first planet outside our solar system was discovered in 1992.
“Since then, we have discovered a multitude of planets around other stars
“We have come to the realization that planets are in fact quite common.
“The ultimate objective of the search is to find planets orbiting in the habitable zone of their star, where it is possible for liquid water and perhaps even life to exist.”
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