Webb telescope fully deployed in space

  • 9 Jan
  • 2022

Webb telescope fully deployed in space

The James Webb Space Telescope completed its two-week-long deployment phase on Saturday, unfolding the final mirror panel as it readies to study every phase of cosmic history.

"I'm emotional about it -- what an amazing milestone," Thomas Zurbuchen, a senior NASA engineer, said during the live video feed as stargazers worldwide celebrated.

Because the telescope was too large to fit into a rocket's nose cone in its operational configuration, it was transported folded-up.

Unfurling has been a complex and challenging task -- the most formidable such project ever attempted, according to NASA.

"We've still got work to do," NASA said as the wing was latched into place. "When the final latch is secure, NASA Webb will be fully unfolded in space."

The most powerful space telescope ever built and the successor to Hubble, Webb blasted off in an Ariane 5 rocket from French Guiana on December 25 and is heading to its orbital point, a million miles (1.5 million kilometers) from Earth.

Though Webb will reach its space destination, known as the second Lagrange point, in a matter of weeks, it still has around another five and a half months of setup to go.

The next steps include aligning the telescope's optics and calibrating its scientific instruments.

Its infrared technology will allow it to see the first stars and galaxies that formed 13.5 billion years ago, giving astronomers new insight into the earliest epoch of the Universe.

Earlier this week, the telescope deployed its five-layered sunshield -- a 70-foot (21 meters) long, kite-shaped apparatus that acts like a parasol, ensuring Webb's instruments are kept in the shade so they can detect faint infrared signals from the far reaches of the Universe.

Visible and ultraviolet light emitted by the very first luminous objects has been stretched by the Universe's expansion, and arrives today in the form of infrared, which Webb is equipped to detect with unprecedented clarity.

Its mission also includes the study of far planets to determine their origin, evolution, and habitability.

The NASA telescope blog said Saturday's procedure was "the last of the major deployments on the observatory."

"Its completion will set the stage for the remaining five and a half months of commissioning, which consist of settling into stable operating temperature, aligning the mirrors, and calibrating the science instruments."

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