Success: Canadian Space Agency, ESA, and NASA Webb Telescope Mirror Unfolds

NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency collaborated on The James Webb Telescope (JWST). The most powerful telescope ever built.
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The joint effort with the European Space Agency (ESA) and Canadian Space Agency and NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope team has paid off for scientists around the world. The telescope fully deployed its 21-foot, gold-coated primary mirror, successfully completing the final stage of all major spacecraft deployments to prepare for science operations on January 8th 2022.

The Webb mission will explore every phase of cosmic history – from within our solar system to the most distant observable galaxies in the early universe. The James Webb Space Telescope is the most complex and powerful space telescope ever built. Canada has contributed a scientific instrument and a guidance sensor. Canadian scientists will take part in its exciting science mission that promises to change our understanding of the universe. 

“Today, NASA achieved another engineering milestone decades in the making. While the journey is not complete, I join the Webb team in breathing a little easier and imagining the future breakthroughs bound to inspire the world.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson

THE JAMES WEBB SPACE TELESCOPE IS AN UNPRECEDENTED SPACE MISSION

“The James Webb Space Telescope is an unprecedented mission that is on the precipice of seeing the light from the first galaxies and discovering the mysteries of our universe. Each feat already achieved and future accomplishment is a testament to the thousands of innovators who poured their life’s passion into this mission.”, said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson

The two wings of Webb’s primary mirror had been folded to fit inside the nose cone of an Arianespace Ariane 5 rocket prior to launch. After more than a week of other critical spacecraft deployments, the Webb team began remotely unfolding the hexagonal segments of the primary mirror, the largest ever launched into space. This was a multi-day process, with the first side deployed Jan. 7 and the second Jan. 8.

Mission Operations Center ground control at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore began deploying the second side panel of the mirror at 8:53 a.m. EST. Once it extended and latched into position at 1:17 p.m. EST, the team declared all major deployments successfully completed.

The world’s largest and most complex space science telescope will now begin moving its 18 primary mirror segments to align the telescope optics. The ground team will command 126 actuators on the backsides of the segments to flex each mirror – an alignment that will take months to complete. Then the team will calibrate the science instruments prior to delivering Webb’s first images this summer.

On December 25, the James Webb Space Telescope launched from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana.

“I am so proud of the team – spanning continents and decades – that delivered this first-of-its kind achievement. Webb’s successful deployment exemplifies the best of what NASA has to offer: the willingness to attempt bold and challenging things in the name of discoveries still unknown.”

Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate in NASA Headquarters

WEBB TELESCOPE’S NEXT STOP IS 1 MILLION MILES FROM EARTH

Soon, Webb will also undergo a third mid-course correction burn – one of three planned to place the telescope precisely in orbit around the second Lagrange point, commonly known as L2, nearly 1 million miles from Earth. This is Webb’s final orbital position, where its sunshield will protect it from light from the Sun, Earth, and Moon that could interfere with observations of infrared light. Webb is designed to peer back over 13.5 billion years to capture infrared light from celestial objects, with much higher resolution than ever before, and to study our own solar system as well as distant worlds.

“The successful completion of all of the Webb Space Telescope’s deployments is historic. This is the first time a NASA-led mission has ever attempted to complete a complex sequence to unfold an observatory in space – a remarkable feat for our team, NASA, and the world.”

Gregory L. Robinson, Webb program director at NASA Headquarters

A FEAT OF SPACE ENGINEERING FROM CANADA, USA, AND EUROPE

A joint project from the Canadian Space Agency, European Space Agency, and NASA over 200 scientists from around the world will study the cosmos and bring new revelations about the formation and existence of our universe.

The CSA is contributing two important elements to the Webb Telescope:

  • the Fine Guidance Sensor (FGS), which will allow the telescope to point at and focus on objects of interest
  • the Near-Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph (NIRISS), a scientific instrument that will help study many astronomical objects, from exoplanets to distant galaxies

The Webb telescope has been referred to as the “Origami” or “Transformer” telescope. It’s so large that to launch it into space, the telescope must be folded up inside the rocket and reassembled at its destination.

CANADA’S NEAR-INFRARED IMAGER AND SLITLESS SPECTROGRAPH

The Canadian NIRISS instrument enables scientists to determine the composition of exoplanets’ atmospheres, observe distant galaxies, and examine objects that are very close together.

Using a camera sensitive to infrared wavelengths, NIRISS will capture the infrared light emitted by objects and gather information about the spectra of distant planets.

Canada’s Fine Guidance Sensor (FGS) and the Near-Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph (NIRISS) at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. (Credit: NASA)

A spectrum shows exactly how bright an object is at many different wavelengths, or colours. This gives detailed information on the characteristics of the observed object.

With the Webb Telescope, scientists will be able to determine if distant planets could be habitable based on whether or not their spectra show lines associated with certain molecules like water, carbon dioxide, methane and oxygen in their atmospheres.

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