NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has just completed its most critical task, unfolding its 21 feet (6.5 m) wide concave-shaped, gold-plated primary mirror on Saturday, 14 days after its long-delayed launch on December 25th, NASA announced in a press release.
The Webb mission, a joint effort with the European Space Agency (ESA) and Canadian Space Agency, will observe lightyears into the past, from within our solar system to the most distant observable galaxies in the early universe.
The telescope previously stretched its sun shield on January 4.
“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.”
“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.”
The next task at hand is to align all 18 hexagonal segments of the main mirror to act as a single reflecting surface.
The telescope will fire its engines one more time to arrive at its expected destination, Earth-sun Lagrange Point 2 (L2), about 930,000 miles (1.5 million km) away from Earth, on January 23. During that time, Webb will adjust its mirrors and its final trajectory to its destination. When Webb arrives at its destination, its fuel consumption to stay in its place will be at the minimum rate because of the near-perfect alignments with the sun, Earth, and moon.
“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.“
When Webb finally arrives at its destination, it will cool itself down, align itself, calibrate its instruments and run diagnostics for five months.
The 10 billion dollar observatory will start collecting data and send its first images later this year. Images taken by Webb are expected to be released this summer.