We can all breathe a collective sigh of relief. With the primary mirror array fully revealed, key components of the trapped James Webb Space Telescope are now deployed, and it continues to quietly make its way to its destination.
The deployment, which was completed on January 8, 2022, marks a very important milestone for the joint NASA, ESA and CSA Webb mission and space science in general. The 18-section primary mirror is the largest mirror ever sent into space, and is set to revolutionize space science with an unprecedented view of the universe.
“NASA has achieved another engineering feat in the making. While the flight wasn’t complete, I joined the Webb team to breathe a little easier and imagine future breakthroughs that will inspire the world,” said Bill Nelson, NASA Administrator.
“The James Webb Space Telescope is an unprecedented mission that is about to see the light from the first galaxies and discover the mysteries of our universe. Every achievement already made and the achievement to come is a testament to the thousands of innovators who have put their passion into life.”
# People Fully diffused! 🎉
With the successful deployment and closing of our latest mirror suite, this is:
50 major deployments, complete.
178 pins, edited.
20+ years in the business, check.
– NASA’s Web Telescope (NASAWebb) January 8, 2022
Currently, Webb is sailing to his new home, a spot 1.5 million kilometers (just under a million miles) from Earth, in an area called Lagrange Point.
Here, the combined gravitational forces of two larger bodies (in this case the Earth and the Sun) create a small area of gravitational stability.
Webb will sit at the second Lagrangian point – there are five in total for a binary-body system – on Earth’s far side from the Sun, also known as L2. Webb is expected to reach L2 by the end of January.
As he travels, scientists here on Earth will begin to issue orders to prepare Webb for future science. Towards the end of Webb’s first month in space, engineers will begin a mid-course correction that will ensure Webb reaches its new position in orbit around L2.
After Webb arrives at L2, the precision-guidance sensor, near-infrared camera, and near-infrared spectrometer will turn on, taking (blurry, because mirrors won’t focus) images of star fields to make sure they’re working.
Then it’s time to adjust the mirror. This involves driving 126 highly precise operators behind the gold-plated mirror to skillfully bend and bend each piece in a process that will take several months.
After that, the calibration will start, and the team is once again putting in a lot of effort to make sure Webb is working as it should. Finally, Webb should be ready to begin scientific operations sometime in June 2022.
– Dr. Heidi B Hammel (@hbhammel) January 9, 2022
Sophia Gad Nasr (Astropartigirl) January 8, 2022
For now, given the difficulties the project has experienced since its inception in 1996, we can all take a moment to celebrate the tremendous achievement of the observatory’s successful arrival into space and its full deployment.
“The successful completion of all Webb Space Telescope deployments is historic,” said NASA’s Webb Program Manager Gregory Robinson.
“This is the first time that a NASA-led mission has ever attempted to complete a complex sequence of opening an observatory in space – a remarkable feat for our team, NASA, and the world.”