Jan 4, 2022 - Science

The James Webb Space Telescope's road ahead

The James Webb Space Telescope

The James Webb Space Telescope not long after its release from its rocket. Photo: NASA

After its Christmas Day launch, NASA's James Webb Space Telescope has started to successfully deploy on the way to its perch 1 million miles from Earth.

Why it matters: The deployment of the $10 billion telescope is one of the riskiest parts of its mission. Getting through this phase will pave the way for the JWST's important science to come.

What's happening: This week, engineers "tensioned" the JWST's tennis court-sized sun shield that will keep the telescope's instruments cold, allowing it to more easily see out into the universe in infrared light.

  • The first three layers of the five-layer sun shield deployed Monday, with the final two successfully tensioned on Tuesday.
  • "This is a really big moment," JWST project manager Bill Ochs said after the sun shield was fully tensioned.
  • Now that all five layers of the sun shield are through tensioning, the telescope is about 70%–75% of the way through the 344 single points of failure that could spell major trouble for the telescope.

What's next: The JWST's next big event is the deployment of its secondary mirror used to reflect light back to its large gold-coated primary mirror.

  • That deployment should happen later this week.
  • If all goes according to plan with its commissioning and deployments, the JWST should start science operations toward the middle of the year.
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