NASA completes construction of James Webb Space Telescope

The telescope has 18 large mirrors that will collect infrared light, sheltered behind a tennis-court-size sun shield.

Nov 3, 2016 14:43 IST
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James Webb Space TelescopeThe National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) on 2 November 2016 completed the construction of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) after more than 20 years of hard work.

This largest-ever space telescope is expected to launch in 2018 following the in-depth testing.

Highlights of the Telescope
• The telescope has 18 large mirrors that will collect infrared light, sheltered behind a tennis-court-size sun shield.
• It is considered as the successor to NASA's iconic Hubble Space Telescope.
• It is a 8.8 billion US dollars worth space observatory built to observe the infrared universe like never before.
• Earth's atmosphere glows in the infrared, so such measurements can't be made from the ground. Hubble emits its own heat, which would obscure infrared readings.
• It can run close to absolute zero in temperature and rest at a point in space called the Lagrange Point 2, which is directly behind Earth from the sun's perspective. That way, Earth can shield the telescope from the sun's infrared emission, and the sun shield can protect the telescope from both bodies' heat.
• The telescope's infrared view will pierce through obscuring cosmic dust to reveal the universe's first galaxies and spy on newly forming planetary systems.
• It will also be sensitive enough to analyze the atmospheres of exoplanets that pass in front of their stars, perhaps to search for signs of life.
• It will be able to see a bumblebee a moon's distance away both in reflected light and in the body heat the bee emitted.
• Its mirrors are so smooth that if you stretched the array to the size of the US, the hills and valleys of irregularity would be only a few inches high.

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The project is led by NASA but supported by international partners, including the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.

The telescope was originally scheduled to launch in 2014 at a cost of about 5 billion US dollars, but a series of setbacks and budget constraints delayed and nearly canceled the project.

The telescope's testing at Goddard will ensure that it can withstand the shaking and loud noise of a rocket launch. Then, it will be moved to Texas, where its focus will be tested, and then to California for some final assembly.

The full telescope, with a 21.3-foot (6.5 meters) mirror assembly, is too large to launch fully extended, so the telescope will be carefully furled during launch and will have to unfold over the course of two weeks once it's in the air.  By six months after launch, the telescope will be ready to begin doing science.

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