Space

James Webb telescope unfolds its tennis court-sized sunshield

James Webb telescope unfolds i...
The James Webb Space Telescope undergoes testing at the Goddard Space Flight Center
The James Webb Space Telescope undergoes testing at the Goddard Space Flight Center
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The James Webb Space Telescope undergoes testing at the Goddard Space Flight Center
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The James Webb Space Telescope undergoes testing at the Goddard Space Flight Center
A next-generation observatory has inched closer to lift-off, with NASA unfolding the James Webb Space Telescope’s five-layer sunshield in the same way it expects it to after arriving in orbit
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A next-generation observatory has inched closer to lift-off, with NASA unfolding the James Webb Space Telescope’s five-layer sunshield in the same way it expects it to after arriving in orbit

A next-generation space observatory has inched closer to lift-off, with NASA unfolding the James Webb Space Telescope’s five-layer sunshield in the same way it expects it to after arriving in orbit. The tests demonstrated how the giant apparatus can unfurl much like a “choreographed dance,” with the milestone dress rehearsal described as one of the program's biggest accomplishments of the year.

The James Webb Space Telescope is around two decades in the making, and will become the largest, most powerful and complex orbital observatory ever launched into space. Once there, it will study the secrets of the early universe, probe the makeup of distant exoplanets and investigate supermassive black holes, using a light-collecting capacity seven times that of Hubble to take our space exploration efforts to new heights.

A key part of this massive instrument is the sunshield, which will effectively split the observatory into two halves, a sun-facing side with a temperature of around 185 °F (85 °C) and a relatively chilly side with temperatures of around -388 °F (-233 °C). This is where the telescope's optics and science instruments will live, as they are designed to operate at extremely cold temperatures.

A next-generation observatory has inched closer to lift-off, with NASA unfolding the James Webb Space Telescope’s five-layer sunshield in the same way it expects it to after arriving in orbit
A next-generation observatory has inched closer to lift-off, with NASA unfolding the James Webb Space Telescope’s five-layer sunshield in the same way it expects it to after arriving in orbit

But the sunshield cannot be launched into space in this configuration. Instead it will be folded up like origami and packed into an Ariane 5 launch vehicle, which will carry it to orbit. From there, two pallet structures fold down, followed by a pair of huge arms that pull out a set of five membranes, which then need to be individually tensioned as they settle into their fully deployed form.

This is handled by a grand total of 139 actuators, eight motors and thousands of other components, which respond to commands sent by the mission’s engineers. The team was able to carry out this procedure as planned at the Goddard Space Flight Center, moving the observatory that little bit closer to take off, which is expected to take place some time next year.

“This is one of Webb’s biggest accomplishments in 2020,” said Alphonso Stewart, Webb deployment systems lead for NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “We were able to precisely synchronize the unfolding motion in a very slow and controlled fashion and maintain its critical kite-like shape, signifying it is ready to perform these actions in space.”

Source: NASA

5 comments
Nelson Hyde Chick
This will help us attain information on somewhere we could get to in a couple hundred years if we could travel at the speed of light, hurrah.
wolf0579
I'll take what progress we can get in these strange days of anti-science people who are glued to their smartphones.
akarp
That is an impressively sized cleanroom.
Richard Poole
One thing that Hubble demonstrated was that complex scientific instruments need to be repaired occasionally, from conception it was designed to facilitate this. The James Webb telescope , as far as I know, allows for no service or repair missions ,as were so celebrated with Hubble. I certainly hope that this wonderful instrument works perfectly ,...it will have to.
Lamar Havard
WHEW! I was like: 'I've been waiting for over 20 years and missed the LAUNCH?!' Then I saw it was still in the cleanroom...😅