James Webb Space Telescope: NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope was launched on Saturday from an Ariane 5 rocket from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana, South America. The telescope is a joint effort with ESA (European Space Agency) and the Canadian Space Agency, the Webb observatory is NASA’s revolutionary flagship mission to seek the light from the first galaxies in the early universe and to explore our own solar system, as well as planets orbiting other stars, called exoplanets.
According to NASA official website, ground teams began receiving telemetry data from Webb about five minutes after launch. The Arianespace Ariane 5 rocket performed as expected, separating from the observatory 27 minutes into the flight. The observatory was released at an altitude of approximately 870 miles (1,400 kilometers). Approximately 30 minutes after launch, Webb unfolded its solar array, and mission managers confirmed that the solar array was providing power to the observatory. After solar array deployment, mission operators will establish a communications link with the observatory via the Malindi ground station in Kenya, and ground control at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore will send the first commands to the spacecraft.
The $9.7-billion space telescope has been under development for decades. The hopes and dreams of astronomers are pinned upon it. The giant mirror of the Webb has 6 times the light-collecting surface of Hubble’s mirror. And launch was just the beginning. Unlike the Hubble Space Telescope and thousands of other satellites, Webb won’t orbit Earth. It’s now journeying to Lagrange point 2, aka L2, which is almost 1 million miles (1.5 million km) behind Earth as viewed from the sun … or about four times the moon’s distance.
It’ll take the giant space telescope about a month to reach L2. And, as shown in the great short video below, during its journey the massive telescope won’t remain snug in its packaging. It’ll be slowly unfolding – piece by piece – into its final configuration. Hundreds of moving pieces will need to operate exactly as designed. That’s why some engineers are jokingly calling the month after launch 30 days of terror.
The next attempt will be to deploy the sunshields on the telescope, which will protect the instruments from the heat generated by the Sun, Moon and the Earth. The deployment begins three days after launch as scientists lower the sun-shield and raise the primary. The mirror on the telescope had to be folded like an origami for it to even launch in the first place. Now in space, the mirrors will begin deployment by Day 10 with the secondary mirror opening up. This will be followed up by the primary mirror coming up on Day 12 since launch.
After all this and nearly 27 days of coasting through open space, Webb will still not be ready to do science. While instruments cool down, the control motors behind each of Webb’s 18 mirror segments, secondary mirror and the fine steering mirror located inside the primary mirror will have to align to form the perfect mirror by Day 29.