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The mirror of the James Webb Space Telescope is undergoing final tests this month before being packaged up for launch.
5-meter-wide JWST is the agency’s next great observatory, the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope.
In a NASA briefing today, Program Scientist Eric Smith told reporters it was born out of a realization in the mid-1990s that, no matter how long it stared into deep space, Hubble would never be able to see the universe’s very first stars and galaxies and learn how they formed and evolved.
4-meter-wide Hubble, which fit comfortably inside the bay of the Space Shuttle, JWST’s mirror is much larger than the fairing on top of an Ariane 5 rocket, so it is elaborately folded to fit inside it.
A few days after launch, engineers will begin the long and delicate process of deploying all the folded parts of the craft, aligning and focusing the 18 segments of the main mirror, cooling the instruments, and checking that everything works.
The process is mapped out “hour by hour and day by day,” said NASA Instrument Systems Engineer Begoña Vila.
JWST’s first year of operation is also fully mapped out, said project scientist Klaus Pontoppidan of the Space Telescope Science Institute, with observing time awarded to researchers from 44 countries as well as 45 U.