NASA’s tennis court-sized telescope team has fully deployed a 70-foot sun shield for its future science operations. The Webb team had begun deployment of the shield on December 28, three days after the launch of the James Webb Telescope.
The sun shield will protect the telescope from the light and heat of the Sun, Earth, and Moon. With each plastic sheet as thin as human hair, coated with reflective metal, providing protection on the order of more than 1 million SPF.
The five layers reduce of protection will reduce exposure from the Sun from over 200 kilowatts of solar energy to a fraction of a watt, said a NASA report.
According to NASA, this protection is crucial to keep Webb’s scientific instruments at temperatures of 40 kelvins, or under minus 380 degrees Fahrenheit – cold enough to see the faint infrared light that Webb seeks to observe.
“This is the first time anyone has ever attempted to put a telescope this large into space,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at the agency’s headquarters in Washington.
“Webb required not only careful assembly but also careful deployments. The success of its most challenging deployment – the sun shield – is an incredible testament to the human ingenuity and engineering skill that will enable Webb to accomplish its science goals.”
“Unfolding Webb’s sunshield in space is an incredible milestone, crucial to the success of the mission,” said Gregory L. Robinson, Webb’s program director at NASA Headquarters.
“Thousands of parts had to work with precision for this marvel of engineering to fully unfurl. The team has accomplished an audacious feat with the complexity of this deployment – one of the boldest undertakings yet for Webb,” he added.
The observatory has close to 6 more months of setup which continues where there will be the deployment of a secondary mirror, primary mirror wings, alignment of optics, and calibration of the science instruments after which the telescope will deliver its first images.
The James Webb Telescope’s technology will explore every phase of cosmic history from within our solar system to some of the most distant galaxies in the universe and anything in between revealing unexpected discoveries to help humanity understand how our world originated.
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