Giant “James Webb Space Telescope” on track for 2018

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By Larry Banks

After suffering years of delays and spiralling costs, the James Webb Space Telescope is finally on track for completion. This week, the final 18th mirror segment of the telescope was installed onto the frame at the Goddard Space Flight Center.

The next step is to install additional optics, and perform tests to ensure it can withstand the huge forces of a rocket launch set for in late 2018.

Every one of the hexagon-shaped mirrors spans 1.3 metres across and weighs 40 kg. After it’s launched, the telescope will be moved to the second ‘Lagrange’ point of the Earth-Sun system which is around 1.5 million km from Earth, where it will begin its observations. When fully deployed in space, the telescope will be 6.5 metres in diameter.

“Completing the assembly of the primary mirror is a very significant milestone and the culmination of over a decade of design, manufacturing, testing, and now assembly of the primary mirror system,” said Lee Feinberg, optical telescope element manager at Goddard. “There is a huge team across the country who contributed to this achievement”.

The telescope was first conceived in 1996 as the successor to the Hubble, and had an original budget of just $500 million. Since then, the figure has grown considerably to $8.8 billion as a result of delays and cost overruns, which has drawn criticism from Congress and scientists from various other fields who seen NASA’s science budget strained.

Once the instrument is in space however, it should provide unparalleled views of the universe. Much larger than the 2.4 metre Hubble, the Webb will mainly observe in the near-infrared region of the light spectrum. It’s main goals include looking for light from the first starts in the universe, and helping scientists to better understand how galaxies and planetary systems were formed.


Images Courtesy of DepositPhotos