The Insane Engineering of James Webb Telescope

James Webb Space Telescope has launched and is on its way!!!

The James Webb Space Telescope Explained In 9 Minutes

James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is a space telescope being jointly developed by NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). It is planned to succeed the Hubble Space Telescope as NASA’s flagship astrophysics mission.[6][7] JWST is scheduled to be launched no earlier than Friday 24 December 2021 during Ariane flight VA256. It will provide improved infrared resolution and sensitivity over Hubble, and will enable a broad range of investigations across the fields of astronomy and cosmology, including observing some of the most distant events and objects in the universe, such as the formation of the first galaxies, and detailed atmospheric characterization of potentially habitable exoplanets.

The primary mirror of JWST, the Optical Telescope Element, consists of 18 hexagonal mirror segments made of gold-plated beryllium which combine to create a 6.5 m (21 ft) diameter mirror — considerably larger than Hubble’s 2.4 m (7 ft 10 in) mirror. Unlike the Hubble telescope, which observes in the near ultravioletvisible, and near infrared (0.1 to 1 μm) spectra, JWST will observe in a lower frequency range, from long-wavelength visible light through mid-infrared (0.6 to 28.3 μm), which will allow it to observe high redshift objects that are too old and too distant for Hubble to observe.[8][9] The telescope must be kept very cold in order to observe in the infrared without interference, so it will be deployed in space near the Sun–Earth L2 Lagrange point (which is 0.010 au – or 3.9 times the Lunar distance – away from Earth)[10] and a large sunshield made of silicon– and aluminum-coated Kapton will keep its mirror and instruments below 50 K (−223 °C; −370 °F).[11]

The NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) is managing the development effort, and the Space Telescope Science Institute will operate Webb after launch.[12] The prime contractor is Northrop Grumman.[13] It is named after James E. Webb,[14] who was the administrator of NASA from 1961 to 1968 and played an integral role in the Apollo program.[15][16]

Development began in 1996 for a launch that was initially planned for 2007 and a US$500 million budget,[17] but the project had numerous delays and cost overruns and underwent a major redesign in 2005.[18] Construction was completed in late 2016, after which its extensive testing phase began.[19][20] In March 2018, NASA further delayed the launch after the telescope’s sunshield ripped during a practice deployment.[21] Launch was delayed again in June 2018 following recommendations from an independent review board.[22][23][24] Work on integration and testing of the telescope was suspended in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic,[25] adding further delays. Following work resumption, the launch date was delayed to 31 October 2021.[26][27] Problems with the Ariane 5 launch vehicle and the telescope itself subsequently pushed the launch date to 22 December 2021.[28][29][30]

On being mounted on the launch vehicle, a communication problem between the telescope and the launch vehicle led to a further delay to “no earlier than 24 December 2021”.[3] Concerns among the involved scientists and engineers about the launch and deployment of the telescope have been well described.[31]

Real Engineering

  • Follow Webb’s Story: Blog | Twitter News | Images | Video
  • Virtual Launch Packet ONLINE – Concise “Need To Know” information on the mission, watching and following the launch and more (download: 37MB pdf).
  • Webb Fact Sheet (download: 2.5MB pdf)- brief descriptions and facts about the mission and spacecraft.
  • Webb Media Kit (download: 27MB pdf) – targeted for media, with links to mission resources and contacts, also contains a more detailed overview of the mission, launch, and spacecraft.
  • Webb Blog A frequently updated blog about all things Webb as we move toward launch and through commissioning. We will add posts weekly, every Thursday afternoon.
  • Media: For Interview Requests – Please fill out this form to request an interview with one of our experts.
  • Become a Webb Launch Virtual Guest – You’ll have access to curated resources, interaction opportunities, schedule changes, and mission specific information straight to your inbox. Following launch, virtual guests will be sent a stamp for their virtual guest passport!
  • #UnfoldTheUniverse Art Challenge – Get inspired and show us what you think Webb will discover in our new art challenge. Post your art and tag us with #UnfoldTheUniverse.
  • Webb STEAM Day – You are invited to NASA’s Webb Space Telescope STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, & Math) Day virtual interactive event. Registration is FREE and open to the public! The program will feature presentations from Sept. 30 2021 through June 2022. Enjoy!
  • EXPLORE Webb’s Deployments – Webb is the largest telescope ever launched into space. In the ~2 weeks after launch, Webb will unfold from its compact launch configuration into its operational configuration which is nearly the size of a tennis court. You can explore the process of deployment on this page interactively.
  • WHERE IS WEBB? is data-driven infographic that shows the status of Webb on its journey to L2 orbit. The page constantly updates as Webb travels, deploys, and cools to operating temperature. The page comes alive a few minutes after LIFTOFF (it is inactive until that point) and starts tracking distance at about 28 minutes after liftoff once Webb separates from the launch vehicle. It will actively track Webb’s travel for a month after launch and track the cooling process until Webb reaches operational temperature.

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