Mirror, Mirror…On Its Way!

Artist rending showing light reflecting off of the primary and secondary mirrors of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, after it has deployed in space. (Credits: NASA/Mike McClare)

James Webb Space Telescope
NASA Mission Update
Jan. 13, 2022

With major deployments complete, Webb continues its journey to its final halo orbit around L2. In the meantime, there are several smaller deployments in the next couple of weeks, which constitute the beginning of a several-month phase of aligning the telescope’s optics. This week, we have started the process of moving the mirror segments (all primary plus secondary) out of their stowed launch positions. For more details, here is Marshall Perrin from the Space Telescope Science Institute, home of the Webb Mission Operations Center:

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Cheops Reveals a Rugby Ball-shaped Exoplanet

Artist impression of planet WASP-103b and its host star. (Credit: ESA)

PARIS (ESA PR) — ESA’s exoplanet mission Cheops has revealed that an exoplanet orbiting its host star within a day has a deformed shape more like that of a rugby ball than a sphere. This is the first time that the deformation of an exoplanet has been detected, offering new insights into the internal structure of these star-hugging planets.

The planet, known as WASP-103b is located in the constellation of Hercules. It has been deformed by the strong tidal forces between the planet and its host star WASP-103, which is about 200 degrees hotter and 1.7 times larger than the Sun.

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Webb Begins Its Months-Long Mirror Alignment

Artist rending showing light reflecting off of the primary and secondary mirrors of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, after it has deployed in space. (Credits: NASA/Mike McClare)

James Webb Space Telescope
NASA Mission Update
Jan. 12, 2022

Webb has begun the detailed process of fine-tuning its individual optics into one huge, precise telescope.

Engineers first commanded actuators – 126 devices that will move and shape the primary mirror segments, and six devices that will position the secondary mirror – to verify that all are working as expected after launch. The team also commanded actuators that guide Webb’s fine steering mirror to make minor movements, confirming they are working as expected. The fine steering mirror is critical to the process of image stabilization.

Ground teams have now begun instructing the primary mirror segments and secondary mirror to move from their stowed-for-launch configuration, off of snubbers that kept them snug and safe from rattling from vibration. These movements will take at least ten days, after which engineers can begin the three-month process of aligning the segments to perform as a single mirror.

NASA’s Webb Telescope Reaches Major Milestone as Mirror Unfolds

Shown fully stowed, the James Webb Space Telescope’s Deployable Tower Assembly that connects the upper and lower sections of the spacecraft will extend 48 inches (1.2 meters) after launch. (Credits: Northrop Grumman)

BALTIMORE (NASA PR) — NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope team fully deployed its 21-foot, gold-coated primary mirror, successfully completing the final stage of all major spacecraft deployments to prepare for science operations.

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Aligning the Primary Mirror Segments of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope with Light

Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Mike McClare

Editor’s Note: This NASA feature from October 2017 describes how engineers aligned the James Webb Space Telescope’s (JWST) mirror segments prior to launch. The telescope completed unfolding and latching its mirrors in space today; engineers will now spend five months aligning the mirrors and calibrating the telescope.

By Eric Villard and Maggie Masetti
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

HOUSTON — Engineers at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston used light waves to align the James Webb Space Telescope’s mirror segments to each other, so they act like a single, monolithic mirror in the cryogenic cold of the center’s iconic Chamber A.

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James Webb Space Telescope Final Mirror Deployed and Latched

First of James Webb Space Telescope’s Two Primary Mirror Wings Unfolds

James Webb Space Telescope unfolding sequence. (Credit: NASA)


James Webb Space Telescope
NASA Mission Update
Jan. 7, 2022

Webb’s iconic primary mirror is taking its final shape. Today, the first of two primary mirror wings, or side panels, was deployed and latched successfully. Each side panel holds three primary mirror segments that were engineered to fold back to reduce Webb’s overall profile for flight.

The process of deploying the port side mirror wing began at approximately 8:36 a.m. EST. At approximately 2:11 p.m. EST, engineers confirmed that the panel was fully secured and locked into place, and the deployment was complete.

Now that the port side wing panel is locked in place, ground teams will prepare to deploy and latch the starboard (right side) panel tomorrow. Upon completion, Webb will have concluded its major deployment sequence.

Learn more about Webb’s deployment timeline online.

NASA to Host Coverage, Briefing for Webb Telescope’s Final Unfolding

James Webb Space Telescope unfolding sequence. (Credit: NASA)

WASHIINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA will provide live coverage and host a media briefing Saturday, Jan. 8, for the conclusion of the James Webb Space Telescope’s major spacecraft deployments.

Beginning no earlier than 9 a.m. EST, NASA will air live coverage of the final hours of Webb’s major deployments. After the live broadcast concludes, at approximately 1:30 p.m., NASA will hold a media briefing. Both the broadcast and media briefing will air live on NASA TV, the NASA app, and the agency’s website.

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Webb’s Specialized Heat Radiator Deployed Successfully

Engineers at Northrop Grumman Space Park in Redondo Beach, California, oversee Webb’s final mirror fold test in April 2021. The forward pallet structure is seen here in the foreground, in its unfolded state. (Credit: Northrop Grumman)

James Webb Space Telescope
NASA Mission Update

At about 8:48 a.m. EST, a specialized radiator assembly necessary for Webb’s science instruments to reach their required low and stable operating temperatures deployed successfully. The Aft Deployable Instrument Radiator, or ADIR, is a large, rectangular, 4 by 8-foot panel, consisting of high-purity aluminum subpanels covered in painted honeycomb cells to create an ultra-black surface. The ADIR, which swings away from the backside of the telescope like a trap door on hinges, is connected to the instruments via flexible straps made of high-purity aluminum foil. The radiator draws heat out of the instruments and dumps it overboard to the extreme cold background of deep space.

The deployment of the ADIR – a process that released a lock to allow the panel to spring into position – took about 15 minutes.

Webb’s final series of major deployments is planned to start tomorrow, Jan. 7, with the rotation into position of the first of two primary mirror wings. The second primary mirror wing – Webb’s final major spacecraft deployment – is planned for Saturday, Jan. 8.

Hubble Space Telescope Passes 1-Billion Second Mark

Hubble Space Telescope (Credit: NASA)

NASA Mission Update

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — On Jan. 1, 2022, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope officially passed the one-billion second mark.

Hubble was deployed from the Space Shuttle Discovery’s cargo bay on April 25, 1990, making it one-billion seconds (over 31 years) since Hubble began operating. For more than three decades, Hubble has provided us with groundbreaking scientific discoveries and iconic images of space.

Hubble’s first one-billion seconds included five astronaut servicing missions to replace and repair components of the telescope, and more than 1.5 million scientific observations and counting! We can only imagine what discoveries the next one-billion seconds will bring as new telescopes like the recently launched James Webb Space Telescope and the future Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope build upon Hubble’s discoveries and work together with Hubble to expand our understanding of the universe.

Ball Aerospace-Built Optics and Mirror System Launched Aboard James Webb Space Telescope

The James Webb Space Telescope previously deployed its primary mirror in March 2020. Its folded sunshield is also visible in this image. (Credits: Northrop Grumman)

BROOMFIELD, Colo. (Ball Aerospace PR) — Ball Aerospace is celebrating the launch of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (Webb) from French Guiana. The Colorado-based company designed and built the advanced optical technology and lightweight mirror system that will enable Webb to detect light from the first stars and galaxies.

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James Webb Space Telescope’s MIRI Instrument Marks a First Milestone in Space

JWST’s Mid Infrared Instrument (MIRI), for which the UK leads the European Consortium. (Credit: STFC RAL Space)

NASA Mission Update
Jan. 5, 2022

While the Webb team was tensioning the sunshield, other activities were also taking place among the instruments. One milestone: unlocking the Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) Contamination Control Cover. We’ve asked Gillian Wright, European principal investigator for MIRI, to tell us about it.

“MIRI has a Contamination Control Cover, because the constraints of its extra-cold operating temperature mean that it is not possible to include other means of dealing with ice contamination, such as heaters for sensitive components. For launch it was safest to have this cover locked, and the timing for operating it is driven by the temperatures of the observatory.

“To unlock the cover, we first had to power on our Instrument Control Electronics and confirm that they were functioning correctly. Then the commands to the cover could be sent. After successfully completing the tests and unlocking the cover, the instrument control electronics were then powered off before the next steps on the sunshield tensioning activities. This key step for MIRI was monitored remotely by team members in Europe, ready to provide assistance if it were needed.

“The picture here shows tired and happy MIRI team members at the Mission Operations Center in Baltimore, after completing this first of the many MIRI commissioning steps. The MIRI Contamination Control Cover will be closed in the next few days to protect the optics from any possible contaminants as the observatory cools. It will then be reopened much later in the timeline, when MIRI has cooled to its operating temperature of just 7K and is ready to look out at the sky.”

—Gillian Wright, European principal investigator for the Mid-Infrared Instrument, UK Astronomy Technology Centre

James Webb Space Telescope Secondary Mirror Deployment Confirmed

James Webb Space Telescope (Credit: NASA)

NASA James Webb Space Telescope Mission Update
Jan. 5, 2022

Today, Webb teams successfully deployed the observatory’s secondary mirror support structure. When light from the distant universe hits Webb’s iconic 18 gold primary mirrors, it will reflect off and hit the smaller, 2.4-foot (.74-meter) secondary mirror, which will direct the light into its instruments. The secondary mirror is supported by three lightweight deployable struts that are each almost 25 feet long and are designed to withstand the space environment. Specialized heating systems were used to warm up the joints and motors needed for seamless operation.

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Sunshield Successfully Deploys on NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope

The James Webb Space Telescope’s final sunshield deployment and tensioning tests were completed in December 2020. (Credits: NASA/Chris Gunn)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — The James Webb Space Telescope team has fully deployed the spacecraft’s 70-foot sunshield, a key milestone in preparing it for science operations.

The sunshield – about the size of a tennis court at full size – was folded to fit inside the payload area of an Arianespace Ariane 5 rocket’s nose cone prior to launch. The Webb team began remotely deploying the sunshield Dec. 28, 2021, three days after launch.

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James Webb Space Telescope Team Moves Forward With Sunshield Tensioning

First Layer of Webb’s Sunshield Tightened
Jan. 3, 2022

Today, at 3:48 pm EST, the Webb team finished tensioning the first layer of the observatory’s sunshield– that is, tightening it into its final, completely taut position. This is the first of five layers that will each be tightened in turn over the next two to three days, until the observatory’s sunshield is fully deployed. The process began around 10 am EST.

This layer is the largest of the five, and the one that will experience the brunt of the heat from the Sun. The tennis-court-sized sunshield helps keep the telescope cold enough to detect the infrared light it was built to observe.

The team has now begun tensioning the second layer.

James Webb Space Telescope Team Moves Forward With Sunshield Tensioning
Jan. 3, 2022

The Webb mission operations team began the first steps in the process of tensioning the first layer of Webb’s sunshield this morning around 10 a.m. EST.

It will take the team two to three days to tension the five-layer sunshield. The plan for today is to focus on the first layer, the largest and the one closest to the Sun.

This critical step in the observatory’s complex sequence of deployments resumed after Webb mission managers paused deployment operations on Saturday to allow for team rest, and then again on Sunday to make adjustments to Webb’s power subsystem and to alter the observatory’s attitude to lower the temperature of the motors that drive the tensioning process.

NASA’s Webb project manager Bill Ochs, Northrop Grumman’s vehicle engineering lead Amy Lo, and NASA’s Webb program director Greg Robinson provided more information about Webb’s first week in space and upcoming deployments in this teleconference held earlier today.