The James Webb Space Telescope is fast moving into its next big deployment.
On Tuesday (January 4), Webb finished bringing his voluminous five-layer sunblock to just the right tension level, At the conclusion of the most complex and difficult process From the observatory’s protracted $10 billion publication phase.
So the mission team can now move on to the next important item on the mission list: getting the telescope’s secondary and primary mirrors in the appropriate configuration. The ball will roll soon.
“We just finished deploying sunvisors today, but wait, there’s more! The #NASAWebb secondary mirror is scheduled to be revealed tomorrow, Jan. 5, in the morning (Eastern time),” NASA officials He said Tuesday evening via the mission’s account on Twitter.
This target timeline appears to have changed as Tuesday approaches. During a press conference early Tuesday afternoon, for example, members of the mission team said that the mirror’s deployment likely won’t begin in earnest for a few more days.
“So I would probably say we’ll start that process by the end of this week,” Alfonso Stewart, James Webb Space Telescope He said during the press conference the pioneering deployment systems at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “But then it goes on for 10 days. Publishing that full mirror is a 10 day period.”
Web width 21.3 feet (6.5 meters) basic mirror It consists of 18 hexagons arranged across a central platform and two smaller side “wings”. These wings were flexed back prior to launch so that they could fit inside the Ariane 5’s Web missile’s protective payload hull. (The sun shield is the size of a tennis court, so it also had to open after takeoff.) Deploying the primary mirror requires the wings to be extended and held in place.
Webb’s secondary mirror is so named because it is the second surface, after the primary, that light will encounter on its way to the telescope’s four scientific instruments. The secondary mirror, which is 2.4 feet (0.74 m) wide, is located at the end of several booms, which must be extended.
The secondary mirror will be deployed first. This process is preceded by heating of the engines that deploy the mirror structure — an activity Stewart said will begin Tuesday night.
“Then, for the next two days, we will start heating [motors] “In preparation for the publication of the wing mirror,” he said during a press conference on Tuesday.
The schedule shifts with Webb aren’t surprising or terribly worrisome; Team members have repeatedly emphasized since the observatory December 25 launch Most deployments are flexible.
Webb has been designed to pick up faint thermal signals from the early universe, a challenge that requires his optics and instruments to remain extremely cold. This is why the observatory has such a wide shield from the sun and why it will work in Earth Sun Lagrange Point 2 (L2), a gravitationally stable spot about 930,000 miles (1.5 million km) from our planet. At L2, Webb will remain aligned with the Earth, Sun, and Moon, allowing the sun’s shield to constantly block light and heat from these objects.
If all goes according to plan, the telescope will slide into orbit around L2 with the engine burning 29 days after launch (on January 23). At this point, Webb will be at his final destination with all major deployments completed. But the observatory will not be ready to begin its scientific work yet.
The mission team will still need to precisely align 18 primary mirror segments so that they act as a single light-gathering surface and to examine and calibrate Webb’s instruments. These jobs will take several months to complete. Scientific operations are expected to begin this summer and last at least five years.
Editor’s note: This story was updated at 6:50PM ET on Tuesday (January 4) with the new publishing schedule. The original version stated that the secondary mirror deployment will likely begin this weekend, a goal that mission team members set during Tuesday’s press conference.
Mike Wall is the author of “AbroadBook (Great Grand Publishing House, 2018; illustrated by Carl Tate), a book on the search for extraterrestrials. Follow him on Twitter Tweet embed. Follow us on Twitter Tweet embed or on Facebook social networking site.