The 70-foot sunshade aboard the James Webb Space Telescope is fully deployed, a major milestone in preparing the mission for science operations.
The tennis court-sized sunshade folded before launch on December 25, 2021 to fit into the loading surface of the nose cone of an Arianespace Ariane 5 rocket. The Webb team began remote deployment of the sunshade three days after NASA mission launched. find the light of the first galaxies in the early universe and explore our own solar system and exoplanets.
In a statement, Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, said: “This is the first time anyone has ever attempted to launch a telescope of this size into space.
“Webb required not only careful assembly, but also careful implementation. The success of the most challenging implementation – the lens hood – is incredible evidence of the human ingenuity and engineering skills that will enable Webb to achieve his scientific goals.”
The five-layer lens hood protects the telescope from the light and heat of the sun, earth and moon. NASA said each plastic sheet is about as thin as a human hair and covered with reflective metal, providing protection of more than a million SPF.
The five layers reduce sun exposure from over 200 kW of solar energy to a fraction of a watt. This keeps Webb’s scientific instruments at a temperature of 40K, which is cold enough to see the infrared light that Webb will observe.
James Webb Space Telescope Nears Completion
James Webb telescope is layering for the sun
“The unfolding of Webb’s sunshade in space is an incredible milestone, critical to the success of the mission,” said Gregory L. Robinson, Webb’s program director at NASA headquarters. “Thousands of parts had to be worked with precision to bring this engineering marvel to its full potential. The team has delivered a bold feat with the complexity of this implementation – one of the most daring ventures yet for Webb.”
Deploying and tensioning the sunshield involved 139 of Webb’s 178 release mechanisms, 70 pivots, eight deployment motors, approximately 400 pulleys, and 90 individual cables.
“The sunshade is notable because it will protect the telescope during this historic mission,” said Jim Flynn, sunshade manager at Northrop Grumman, NASA’s prime contractor for Webb. “This milestone represents the pioneering spirit of thousands of engineers, scientists and technicians who have spent much of their careers developing, designing, manufacturing and testing this first-of-its-kind space technology.”
The world’s largest and most complex space science observatory has five and a half months to go, including placement of the secondary mirror and primary mirror wings, alignment of the telescope optics and calibration of the science instruments. Webb will then provide the first images.
The Webb Observatory is an international partnership with the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency.
Four themes of the Webb (JWST) mission:
The End of the Dark Ages: The First Light and Reionization – JWST will be a powerful infrared vision time machine that will look back more than 13.5 billion years to see the first stars and galaxies emerge from the darkness of the early universe.
Galaxies Assembly – JWST’s unprecedented infrared sensitivity will help astronomers compare the faintest, earliest galaxies to today’s large spirals and ellipticals, and help us understand how galaxies assemble over billions of years.
The birth of stars and protoplanetary systems – JWST will be able to see right through and into huge dust clouds that are opaque to visible light observatories like Hubble, where stars and planetary systems are born.
Planetary Systems and the Origin of Life – JWST will tell us more about the atmospheres of extrasolar planets, and maybe even find the building blocks of life elsewhere in the universe. In addition to other planetary systems, JWST will also study objects within our own solar system.