Final Assembly Phase
NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) was just seen the installation of the first of its eighteen flight mirrors, marking the beginning of the final assembly phase of the successor to the 25-year-old Hubble Space Telescope.
The significance of this project cannot be overstated, as Hubble is arguably one of mankind’s greatest inventions, and the James Webb is set to be 100 times more powerful.
Indeed, this telescope will be more sensitive by a factor of about 100, than all the other telescopes that came before it. It could help us see some of the first stars forming in the universe. It could allow us to image planets orbiting alien stars. It will open up a world (a universe) of possibilities.
We will be able to see farther and deeper than ever before, and completion is coming ever closer.
Just ahead of Thanksgiving, engineers at NASA Goddard installed a gold-coated mirror onto the mirror holding backplane assembly using a robotic arm. These hexagonal primary mirror segments are 1.3 meters (4.2 feet) wide and weigh 40 kilograms (88 pounds) each. Notably, these segments unfold into one large mirror to gather light.
Installation of the mirrors will continue along the next few months into early next year. Ultimately, the James Webb Space Telescope is expected to launch from the Guiana Space Center Kourou, French Guiana in 2018.
Future of Space Observation
During an interview at the NASA Goddard clean room facility, JWST lead structural engineer Sandra Irish told Universe Today that progress is happening quickly and smoothly; “This fall we will start installing every mirror. Then next April 2016 we will install the ISIM science module inside the backplane structure.”
The telescope is designed to be able to observe the Universe’s first light by looking far back in time and witnessing the formation of the first stars and galaxies. Associate administrator of the Science Mission Directorate at the NASA Headquarters in Washington and astronaut John Grunsfeld said that “The James Webb Space Telescope will be the premier astronomical observatory of the next decade.”
I, for one, simply cannot wait.