The $10 billion telescope is the biggest and the most advanced scientific instrument ever developed. With its outstanding design and complexity, some have wondered how exactly will NASA launch it into space. The JWST, which has an overall mass of around 6.2 tons, is scheduled to take off next year onboard an Ariane 5 rocket.
James Webb Space Telescope is Getting Ready
However, JWST is too massive for any rocket to launch and has to be lodged and stashed away in order to fit inside the payload fairing of Ariane 5. Once in space, the telescope will slowly unroll and extend its components in a rather fine operation.
Bill Ochs, Webb project manager for NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, said: “The James Webb Space Telescope achieved another significant milestone with the entire observatory in its launch configuration for the first time, in preparation for environmental testing.”
He continued: “I am very proud of the entire Northrop Grumman and NASA integration and test team. This accomplishment demonstrates the outstanding dedication and diligence of the team in such trying times due to COVID-19.”
The space telescope is now completely assembled, and NASA teams are ready to test each of its parts. The teams will examine the vehicle for acoustics and vibrations, among other things. After a series of tests are performed, the telescope will be deployed one last time before its launch, which will take place from the Guiana Space Centre in French Guiana.
Gregory L Robinson, the Webb program director at NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC, said: “While operating under augmented personal safety measures because of the novel coronavirus, the project continues to make good progress and achieve significant milestones in preparation for upcoming environmental testing. Team member safety continues to be our highest priority as the project takes precautions to protect Webb’s hardware and continue with integration and testing. NASA will continually assess the project’s schedule and adjust decisions as the situation evolves.”
Finding Signs of Alien Life on Exoplanets
James Webb Space Telescope’s most important feature is a 270 square foot (25 square meters) gold-plated, divided primary mirror. This instrument is made out of 18 hexagonal parts composed of beryllium and covered with gold.
The mirror is mounted in such a way that it focuses on a secondary mirror attached to a frame. JWST also packs a multi-layered Sun shield that will expand in space, whose purpose is to protect the spacecraft from the Sun‘s heat and light.
According to NASA, the telescope will observe the earlier days of the Universe, by examining cosmic objects whose light has traveled towards Earth for billions of years. JWST is also expected to spot signs of alien life on distant exoplanets by finding worlds with habitable environments.
NASA said: “The first planet outside our solar system was discovered in 1992. Since then, we have discovered a multitude of planets around other stars. We have come to the realization that planets are, in fact, quite common. The ultimate objective of the search is to find planets orbiting in the habitable zone of their star, where it is possible for liquid water and perhaps even life to exist.”