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First Look: NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope Fully Stowed

May 14, 2020

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has been successfully folded and stowed into the same configuration it will have when loaded onto an Ariane 5 rocket for launch next year.

Clouds Form Near Black Holes

Webb is NASA’s largest and most complex space science telescope ever built. Too big for any rocket available in its fully expanded form, the entire observatory was designed to fold in on itself to achieve a much smaller configuration. Once in space, the observatory will unfold and stretch itself out in a carefully practiced series of steps before beginning to make groundbreaking observations of the cosmos.

The testing team’s charter is to make sure every piece of hardware and every piece of software that comprise Webb will work not only individually, but as a full observatory. Now that Webb is completely assembled, technicians and engineers have seized the unique opportunity to command the entire spacecraft and carry out the various stages of movement and deployment it will perform when in space. By folding and stowing the spacecraft into the same configuration when it launches from French Guiana, the engineering team can confidently move forward with final environmental testing (acoustics and vibration). After completing the series of tests, Webb will be deployed one last time on Earth for testing prior to preparing for launch.

“While operating under augmented personal safety measures because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), the project continues to make good progress and achieve significant milestones in preparation for upcoming environmental testing,” said Gregory L. Robinson, the Webb program director at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. “Team member safety continues to be our highest priority as the project takes precautions to protect Webb’s hardware and continue with integration and testing. NASA will continually assess the project’s schedule and adjust decisions as the situation evolves.”

The James Webb Space Telescope will be the world’s premier space science observatory when it launches in 2021. Webb will solve mysteries in our solar system, look beyond to distant worlds around other stars, and probe the mysterious structures and origins of our universe and our place in it. Webb is an international program led by NASA with its partners, ESA (European Space Agency) and the Canadian Space Agency.

Credit: NASA Goddard

Last Updated: May 14, 2020
Editor: Lynn Jenner

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope Full Mirror Deployment a Success

March 31, 2020

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope Full Mirror Deployment

In a recent test, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope fully deployed its primary mirror into the same configuration it will have when in space.

As Webb progresses towards liftoff in 2021, technicians and engineers have been diligently checking off a long list of final tests the observatory will undergo before being packaged for delivery to French Guiana for launch. Performed in early March, this procedure involved commanding the spacecraft’s internal systems to fully extend and latch Webb’s iconic 21 feet 4-inch (6.5 meter) primary mirror, appearing just like it would after it has been launched to orbit. The observatory is currently in a cleanroom at Northrop Grumman Space Systems in Redondo Beach, California.

The difficulty and complexity of performing tests for Webb has increased significantly, now that the observatory has been fully assembled. Special gravity offsetting equipment was attached to Webb’s mirror to simulate the zero-gravity environment its mechanisms will have to operate in. Tests like these help safeguard mission success by physically demonstrating that the spacecraft is able to move and unfold as intended. The Webb team will deploy the observatory’s primary mirror only once more on the ground, just before preparing it for delivery to the launch site.

A telescope’s sensitivity, or how much detail it can see, is directly related to the size of the mirror that collects light from the objects being observed. A larger surface area collects more light, just like a larger bucket collects more water in a rain shower than a small one. Webb’s mirror is the biggest of its kind that NASA has ever built.

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope is able to move and unfold as intended

In order to perform groundbreaking science, Webb’s primary mirror needs to be so large that it cannot fit inside any rocket available in its fully extended form. Like the art of origami, Webb is a collection of movable parts employing applied material science that have been specifically designed to fold themselves to a compact formation that is considerably smaller than when the observatory is fully deployed. This allows it to just barely fit within a 16-foot (5-meter) payload fairing, with little room to spare.

“Deploying both wings of the telescope while part of the fully assembled observatory is another significant milestone showing Webb will deploy properly in space. This is a great achievement and an inspiring image for the entire team,” said Lee Feinberg, optical telescope element manager for Webb at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

Credit: NASA Goddard

Last Updated: April 6, 2020
Editor: Lynn Jenner

“While operating under augmented personal safety measures because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), the project continues to make good progress and achieve significant milestones in preparation for upcoming environmental testing,” said Gregory L. Robinson, the Webb program director at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. “Team member safety continues to be our highest priority as the project takes precautions to protect Webb’s hardware and continue with integration and testing. NASA will continually assess the project’s schedule and adjust decisions as the situation evolves.”

The James Webb Space Telescope will be the world’s premier space science observatory when it launches in 2021. Webb will solve mysteries in our solar system, look beyond to distant worlds around other stars, and probe the mysterious structures and origins of our universe and our place in it. Webb is an international program led by NASA with its partners, ESA (European Space Agency) and the Canadian Space Agency.

Credits: NASA/Chris Gunn

Credits: NASA/Sophia Roberts