NASA James Webb Space Telescope unfolds primary mirror.
The James Webb Space Telescope team completed the final stage of all major spacecraft deployments to prepare for science operations, successfully deploying its 21-foot gold-coated primary mirror.
The Webb project, a collaboration between the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency, will investigate every stage of cosmic history, from within our solar system to the farthest detectable galaxies in the early cosmos.
“Today, NASA achieved another engineering milestone decades in the making. While the journey is not complete, I join the Webb team in breathing a little easier and imagining the future breakthroughs bound to inspire the world,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “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.”
The two wings of Webb’s primary mirror had been folded to fit inside the nose cone of an Arianespace Ariane 5 rocket prior to launch. After more than a week of other critical spacecraft deployments, the Webb team began remotely unfolding the hexagonal segments of the primary mirror, the largest ever launched into space. This was a multi-day process, with the first side deployed on Jan. 7 and the second on Jan. 8.
Mission Operations Center ground control at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore began deploying the second side panel of the mirror at 8:53 a.m. EST. Once it extended and latched into position at 1:17 p.m. EST, the team declared all major deployments successfully completed.
The 18 primary mirror pieces of the world’s largest and most sophisticated space scientific telescope will now be moved to align the telescope optics. To bend each mirror, the ground team will command 126 actuators on the backsides of the pieces, which will take months to complete. Before delivering Webb’s first photographs this summer, the team will calibrate the research instruments.
“I am so proud of the team – spanning continents and decades – that delivered this first-of-its kind achievement,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate in NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Webb’s successful deployment exemplifies the best of what NASA has to offer: the willingness to attempt bold and challenging things in the name of discoveries still unknown.”
Webb will undergo a third mid-course correction burn soon, the third of three planned to accurately set the telescope in orbit around the second Lagrange point, often known as L2, almost 1 million kilometers from Earth. Webb’s final orbital position, where its sunshield will shield it from light from the Sun, Earth, and Moon that could interfere with infrared light studies. Webb will look back 13.5 billion years to catch infrared light from astronomical objects with considerably higher resolution than ever before, as well as explore our own solar system and other worlds.
“The successful completion of all of the Webb Space Telescope’s deployments is historic,” said Gregory L. Robinson, Webb program director at NASA Headquarters. “This is the first time a NASA-led mission has ever attempted to complete a complex sequence to unfold an observatory in space – a remarkable feat for our team, NASA, and the world.”
NASA’s Science Mission Directorate oversees the mission. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the project for the agency and oversees the Space Telescope Science Institute, Northrop Grumman, and other mission partners. In addition to Goddard, several NASA centers contributed to the project, including Johnson Space Center in Houston, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, and others.
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