NASA Mission Update
Jan. 2, 2021
Taking advantage of its flexible commissioning schedule, the Webb team has decided to focus today on optimizing Webb’s power systems while learning more about how the observatory behaves in space. As a result, the Webb mission operations team has moved the beginning of sunshield tensioning activities to no earlier than tomorrow, Monday, Jan. 3. This will ensure Webb is in prime condition to begin the next major deployment step in its unfolding process.
Specifically, the team is analyzing how the power subsystem is operating now that several of the major deployments have been completed. Simultaneously, the deployments team is working to make sure motors that are key to the tensioning process are at the optimal temperatures prior to beginning that operation.
Using an approach to keep mission operations focused on as few activities as necessary at a time, mission managers have chosen to wait to resume sunshield deployment steps after better understanding the details of how Webb is functioning in its new environment.
“Nothing we can learn from simulations on the ground is as good as analyzing the observatory when it’s up and running,” said Bill Ochs, Webb project manager, based at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “Now is the time to take the opportunity to learn everything we can about its baseline operations. Then we will take the next steps.”
Webb’s deployment was designed so that the team could pause deployments if necessary. In this case, Ochs said, they are relying on that flexibility in order to properly address how the massive and complex observatory is responding to the environment of space.
“We’ve spent 20 years on the ground with Webb, designing, developing, and testing,” said Mike Menzel, of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Webb’s lead systems engineer. “We’ve had a week to see how the observatory actually behaves in space. It’s not uncommon to learn certain characteristics of your spacecraft once you’re in flight. That’s what we’re doing right now. So far, the major deployments we’ve executed have gone about as smoothly as we could have hoped for. But we want to take our time and understand everything we can about the observatory before moving forward.”
The timeline for deployments and NASA coverage will be updated as major deployments resume.