The long-awaited James Webb Space Telescope, or JWST, is getting ready for its 2018 launch. Engineers are readying the JWST so that it can be dispatched to Houston, Texas, for additional tests, before it embarks on its space odyssey.
The JWST is the successor of the Hubble and will be placed inside a massive thermal vacuum chamber. This chamber has previously been used for testing the Apollo spaceships prior to their launch.
If everything goes according to plan, the JWST will become the first-ever massive telescope to be sent to space. The telescope is slated to launch in October 2018 from Kourou, French Guiana.
JWST To Undergo Tests In Extreme Temperatures
The telescope will receive a thorough inspection for 90 days in the exact frigid, airless environment it will grapple with once it is placed in orbit.
It took scientists over two decades to develop the telescope. Currently, the JWST is undergoing a critical phase in its construction timeline. Therefore, any technical glitches during this stage could potentially disrupt the telescope's expected launch.
The JWST will be flown to NASA's Johnson Center by April end or early May. On its arrival, the telescope will be placed inside the famous Chamber A. This testing chamber is the largest in the world and can accommodate an orbiting telescope as big as the JWST.
Engineers want to ensure that the 18 beryllium-gold mirror segments of the JWST and its instruments work simultaneously when it is out in space. The chamber will aid the engineers in determining these aspects effectively, as the temperatures inside the testing facility can drop to as low as minus 260 degrees Celsius. Artificial light will also be thrown on the telescope, ensuring everything aligns according to the engineers' requirements.
"When we are at temperature, we will unfold the mirrors and move them," explained Begoña Vila, engineer of the JWST instrument systems.
She added that simply unfolding the mirrors on orbit will not achieve the goal, as the focus of various instruments needs to be in place as well.
The Gold Mirror Of JWST
The primary target of the telescope is to discover the first-ever stars which shone in the universe.
To attain this goal, a colossal mirror and instruments have been kept at the observatory, which can detect even obscure objects in the sky.
In 2016, the engineers assembled the telescope's main structure, along with its 18 beryllium-gold mirror segments, which is a lot bigger than Hubble's. This is the main attraction of the JWST.
Once the 90-day test in Chamber A is successfully completed the JWST will be transported to Northrop Grumman, in Los Angeles, for the final assembly of the telescope's parts.
Other parts of the JWST, which will be attached to the gold mirror, are the power and propulsion systems, the satellite bus (which will house the telescope's computers), and the sunshield.
The sunshield and the bus are nearing the final stages of assembly; however, some components are yet to be attached. Eric Smith, the JWST program director and scientist, affirmed that presently, things are "in good shape."