NASA's James Webb Space Telescope gets its first mirror
Construction is well under way onNASA's James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) – the space agency's next generationinstallation, scheduled to launch in 2018. The instrument is reallystarting to take shape, with engineers successfully installing thefirst of 18 mirrors.
An ambitious program, the JWST isNASA's successor to the much celebrated Hubble Space Telescope, aversatile installation (it's capable of capturing visible, infraredand ultraviolet light) that has, on near countless occasions,provided significant scientific insights.
Originally conceived almost 20 yearsago, the JWST will be capable of viewing the very first generation ofstars that ignited in the early Universe. It'll be used to investigate theformation of early galaxies, study the evolution of our own solarsystem, look at distant worlds, and much more. If it's anything likeits predecessor, it'll have a huge impact on humanity's knowledge ofthe Universe.
The construction is taking place in a clean room at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. The team used a robotic arm to carefully lower the hexagonal mirror, which measures some 4.2 ft (1.3 m) in diameter, and weighs in at around 88 lb (40 kg). It's made from ultra-lightweight beryllium and has a thin gold coating, designed to help it reflect infrared light.
A further 17 segments will be movedinto place in the coming months. After being inserted into orbit, thesegments will unfold to form a single 21.3 ft (6.5 m) mirror.
"After a tremendous amount of work byan incredibly dedicated team across the country, it is very excitingto start the primary mirror segment installation process," said Goddard Flight Center optical telescope element manager Lee Feinberg."This starts the final assembly phase of telescope."
For more on the ongoing construction,NASA has provided a live webcam feed.