James Webb telescope completes epic deployment sequence

James Webb telescope completes epic deployment sequence
Artwork: Webb is now in the designed configuration to view the cosmos. Source: NASA
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Daily US Times: It’s done. The biggest astronomical mirror ever sent into space is assembled and ready for focusing. The golden reflector, the centrepiece of the new James Webb telescope, was straightened out on Saturday into its full, 6.5m-wide, concave shape.

The mirror had been folded like a drop-leaf table for the mission’s Christmas Day launch.

James Webb is set now to become a transformative tool in the study of all parts of the cosmos.

Scientists intend to use the $10bn observatory and its remarkable mirror to capture events that occurred just a couple of hundred million years after the Big Bang. They want to see the very first stars to light up the Universe.

They’ll also train the telescope’s big “eye” on the atmospheres of distant planets to see if those worlds might be habitable.

“Webb has the potential to blow people away, even people who are used to the pictures from the Hubble Space Telescope – and I know that’s hard to imagine,” said Lee Feinberg, who’s led the Webb mirror development team at the US space agency (Nasa).

“Webb is so powerful, almost anywhere we look we’re going to be breaking new ground in a huge way,” he told BBC News.

The telescope is a joint project of the American, European and Canadian space agencies. It has taken 30 years to design and build, and will continue the revelatory science of Hubble, which is now nearing the end of its operational life.

Webb carries next-generation technologies. It’s also much bigger. It’s so big, it had to be flat-packed to fit inside the nosecone of the rocket that took it to orbit on 25 December.

The subsequent unwrapping over the past fortnight has had everyone holding their breath. But the complex series of deployments, which included the unfurling of a tennis-court-sized sun shield, passed off with no drama.

It will go down in space exploration history as an astonishing accomplishment.

Controllers, based at the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland, completed the rearrangement sequence by rotating the main mirror’s two “wings” through 90 degrees.

Telemetry beamed down from Webb confirmed the second of these side panels had been latched and locked in place at 18:16 GMT.

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