On Tuesday, January 4, the James-Webb Space Telescope took a big step towards the success of its mission by making full use of its thermal shield. An essential element for making future observations of the universe.
This sun visor is made up of five layers, each the size of a tennis court, intended to protect scientific instruments from the heat of our star. They have been carefully spread out one by one since Monday.
Large enough to fit on a rocket, the telescope must be folded over it like origami and positioned in space. Very risky process, this deployment is one of the most difficult stages. This most powerful space telescope ever designed is expected by astronomers around the world. In particular, the Big Bang should make it possible to observe the first galaxies formed a few hundred million years later.
The lab left French Guiana a week ago and is now 900,000 kilometers from Earth. It is still on track to reach its final orbit 1.5 million kilometers away from us – four times the distance between Earth and the Moon. At this point, if a problem occurs, the repair work cannot be carried out.
Its deployment, piloted from Baltimore on the U.S. East Coast, must be carried out without error. More than a hundred engineers currently work there 24 hours a day to make sure everything is going as planned.
On Tuesday morning, NASA broadcast the event live on the Internet. Since no aircraft on board could take photos of the observation room, only pictures from the operational control room were available, where deployment teams cheered happily after the announcement of the deployment. Fifth layer tension.
“Sigh of relief”
The lens hood is approximately 20 to 14 meters long and is shaped like a diamond. Its layers, as thin as a hair, were previously folded like an accordion and are now some ten centimeters apart from each other.
They are made of kaptan, a material selected for its resistance to extreme temperatures: the closest face to the sun can reach 125 degrees Celsius and the farthest – 235 degrees Celsius. Their deployment includes hundreds of bulldozers and meter cables to guide them, as well as motors to tension every boat from every corner of the diamond. A process has been repeated many times on earth, but those in charge of the task are particularly apprehensive.
“If you ask me what keeps me awake at night, it’s Sun Wizard’s deployment.”, Bill-Oaks, project manager for James-Webb, said Monday, shortly before operations began. “We’re all going to let out a sigh of relief when it comes to the fifth tier power-up.”
Return to the origin of the universe
On Monday, the first three layers were successfully stretched and stretched. On Tuesday morning, the teams did the last two. Earlier, two “paddles” containing the solar shield were released.
This heat shield is important because James-Webb’s scientific instruments can only operate at very low temperatures and in the dark. The great novelty of this telescope is that it is invisible to the naked eye, operating only at near and medium infrared wavelengths.
However, to detect the faint glow coming from the boundary of the universe, it should not be disturbed in any way by the radiation of the sun or the radiation returning through the earth and moon.
The next step is to assemble the mirrors: first the secondary glass, the smallest and placed at the end of the tripod. Then the iconic main glass, covered with gold and approximately 6.6 meters in diameter, opens one after the other on either side of it.
When in its final configuration, the telescope reaches its target, called the LochRange 2 point. The instruments still need to be calibrated and calibrated, and the glasses adjusted more accurately. Six months after takeoff, the telescope will finally be ready to go to the origin of the universe and look for living conditions outside our solar system.
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