(ORDO NEWS) — NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope successfully deployed its solar screen about the size of a tennis court yesterday, Tuesday. This phase is critical to a mission whose primary goal is to study all phases of the history of space, NASA said.
“All five layers of the solar shield are now fully stretched,” announced a spokesman for the control center in Baltimore, USA, where members of the mission team rejoiced at the success.
The 21-meter kite-shaped solar screen acts like a parasol from the Sun, providing shadows for Webb’s infrared (IR) instruments, designed to observe faint infrared signals from the far reaches of the universe.
Each layer was deployed sequentially after the previous one for a total of two days. The five coats work together to achieve a sun protection factor (SPF) of about one million.
Because the telescope is too large to fit into the launch vehicle’s nose cone when deployed, it was sent into orbit in a folded state. Deployment in space is an unprecedentedly challenging and dangerous set of operations for NASA.
“This is the first time we’ve attempted to launch such a huge telescope,” said Thomas Zurbüchen, NASA’s deputy science mission administrator, in a statement.
The world’s most powerful space telescope and the scientific successor to the Hubble, Webb launched aboard an Ariane 5 rocket from the launch site in French Guiana on December 25 and has now passed more than half the way to its orbital target at distance of about 1.5 million kilometers from the Earth.
The James Webb telescope’s infrared instruments will look at the first stars and galaxies that formed 13.5 billion years ago, giving astronomers a deeper understanding of this earliest era in the evolution of the universe.
The telescope’s sunscreen is made of a lightweight material called kapton and coated with a specially treated silicone. It also has a special “burst protection” to help reduce the damage caused by meteoroids.
Although Webb will reach its destination, called the second Lagrange point, in just a few weeks, it will take about 5.5 months more to tune its instruments before scientific operations begin.
The next stages of the mission involve deploying the secondary and primary mirrors, adjusting the optics, and calibrating scientific instruments.
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