NASA has launched the most powerful space telescope ever. The most powerful space telescope ever built has officially left Earth. NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope lifted off at 7:20 a.m. EST on December 25 from a European spaceport in French Guiana.
The roughly $ 10 billion observatory, which is larger and more sophisticated than the iconic Hubble Space Telescope, has been under construction since the late 1980s. What you find could revolutionize our understanding of the universe and our place in it.
Even though aerospace experts consider the Ariane 5 rocket to be highly reliable, there was always the fear of a launch mishap or an explosion that would obliterate its precious cargo in an instant.
“I think the first few minutes of the launch will be the most worrisome as there is nothing to be done if something goes wrong,” Scott Sheppard of the Carnegie Institution for Science told NPR.
A revolutionary technology
The huge telescope is designed to capture infrared light, especially galaxies so far away that their light has traversed space for most of the universe’s history.
“We expect to see light from the first galaxies that formed about 100 [million], 200 million years after the Big Bang,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a pre-launch briefing. “It will provide world-class science. It is a revolutionary technology that will study every phase of 13.5 billion years of cosmic history.”
Also, he said, the James Webb Space Telescope will be able to study the atmospheres of planets beyond our solar system, to try to determine if they could be habitable, or maybe even inhabited.
“It’s going to give us a better understanding of our universe and our place in it,” Nelson said.
The telescope is named after a former NASA administrator who led the agency in the 1960s, and it stands about three stories tall, with a mirror that’s 21 feet across. The instrument is so big that it had to be folded up to fit into its rocket, and will need to unfold out in space.
The development of its complex technology has been marked by repeated delays and significant cost overruns, and in 2011 some congressional legislators even tried to eliminate it.
“Like most amazing projects that are transformative, there have been bumps, there have been setbacks along the way,” Nelson said. “We always knew that this project would be a risky business. But of course, when you want a big payoff, you usually have to take a big risk.”
After launch, two weeks of terror
After safely reaching space, the telescope still has to go through a grueling 29-day campaign to settle and position itself in its strategic position, approximately one million kilometers from Earth.
First, shortly after launch, the spacecraft must deploy its solar panel for power and its antenna to communicate. Then it will use its small rocket engines to perform a heading correction maneuver.
“wings” of the great mirror.
Unfolding the thin and flexible umbrella, which features five layers, is what the engineers focused on in terms of thinking about the potential problems that could arise when implementing the key components of the telescope.
“The umbrella is the one that presents some risk, and we certainly tried to focus on that,” said Mike Menzel, NASA’s chief mission systems engineer, during a briefing at the reporter briefing.
Assuming all goes well, the telescope will start to cool down to a frosty minus 370 degrees Fahrenheit. Getting that cold is absolutely crucial: It keeps the telescope’s own heat from interfering with the infrared light that it’s trying to capture from distant objects.
Controllers will also need to precisely align the mirror’s 18 hexagonal segments, using tiny motors that can move each separate segment, and the telescope will undergo calibration testing and various checkouts. The first images from the telescope should be released about six months after launch.
Some astronomers have already been granted time to use the telescope and funding after submitting research proposals. One of them is Jackie Faherty, an astrophysicist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.
She says she feels anxious and hopeful that everything goes well because of her own personal investment in the telescope, but she also wants it to succeed because of its significance for science and humanity more broadly.
“My career is kind of anchored in this,” says Faherty, “But then, I’m just a human, and I’m like ‘Wow, what are we about to do?’ We’re launching this amazing engineering feat into the cosmos.”
News Source: npr.org