The James Webb Space Telescope is currently aiming for autumn launch date, and this week the world’s largest and most powerful space science telescope opened its main mirror for the last time before it began its expected mission.
As you can see from the video at the top of this page, the 6.5-meter (21-foot-4-inch) golden mirror is indeed a sight, and in a recent test, the final confirmation of the telescope’s ability to expand and lock 18 hexagonal mirrors in place.
The space agency used special gravity compensation devices connected to the satellite to simulate a zero-gravity environment to ensure that the test produced the most accurate data possible.
NASA and main contractor Northrop Grumman said the successful exercise was the last test in a long series of tests to verify that the telescope is fully operational before launching it later this year.
The James Webb Space Telescope was born out of international collaboration between NASA and European and Canadian space agencies. Too big in space to fit in the nose cone of any rocket, the satellite must be folded in “origami style” before the Arianespace Ariane 5 rocket will take it into space in October.
About a million miles from the ground, the telescope’s sunshade opens to the size of a tennis court before it sets the main mirror, which begins explore distant worlds around other stars to see if they have a similar atmosphere to Earth. The Space Science Observatory also collects information that can help scientists unravel some of the many mysteries of our solar system.
So yes, there is a lot of riding in the mission.
“The primary mirror is a technical miracle,” said Lee Feinberg, Webb’s Director of Optical Telescope Elements at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “Light mirrors, coatings, actuators and mechanisms, electronics and thermal blankets, when fully used, form one precise mirror that is truly significant.”
Feinberg added: “It’s humble to think of the hundreds of dedicated people across the country who worked so hard to design and build a primary mirror, and now know the launch is so close.”