NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope Finally Reaching Key Milestones in Preparation for Launch in 2018

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope Finally Reaching Key Milestones in Preparation for Launch in 2018

After years of delays and cost overruns, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) assembly is running smoothly and approaching some critical milestones. The successor to the Hubble Space Telescope is reaching some key milestones in its preparation for launch in 2018. Engineers are about to complete the assembly of the primary mirror surface on the James Webb Space Telescope. They are also winding up the final deep-chill calibration tests on the observatory's four instruments. The US space agency-led project is now on track to make rapid progress in the coming months. The major components of JWST, which have been years in the design and fabrication phase, will at last be integrated into their flight configuration. With margin still in the program to cope with any unexpected problems, everything currently remains on course for an October 2018 lift-off atop a European Ariane rocket.

The new telescope’s mirror is far larger than Hubble’s (21 feet in diameter versus 8 feet) and is assembled from 18 separate ‘panes’ of beryllium. The JWST telescope is specialized in infrared, with some ability to observe in the visible spectrum. The ultimate goal for the James Webb telescope is to push the boundary of what we can observe back to the so-called ‘Dark Ages’ of the universe. John Durning, NASA’s JWST deputy project manager, said we have eight months of reserve; we have consumed about a month with various activities. Webb is a joint venture between NASA and its European and Canadian counterparts. It will go in search of the very first stars to shine in the Universe.

To achieve this ambition, it will deploy a 6.5m-wide mirror, giving the observatory roughly seven times the light-collecting area of Hubble. Webb will be tuned to detect the faint, ‘stretched’ glow of objects that originally shone more than 13.5 billion years ago.

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