“Expansion of Webb’s solar shield into space is an incredible milestone, which is critical to the mission’s success,” said Gregory L., Webb’s project director at NASA headquarters. Robinson said in a statement. “Thousands of parts had to be worked on precisely to fully uncover this amazing engineering. The team has accomplished a daunting task in the complexity of this deployment – one of Webb’s even more daring endeavors.”
According to the agency, this is one of the most challenging spacecraft deployments NASA has ever attempted.
The largest five-layer solar shield protects the giant glass and equipment from the heat of the sun. To observe the design of the universe, both glass and instruments must be placed in a very cool negative 370 degrees Fahrenheit (negative 188 degrees Celsius). Each of the five sheets is as thin as human hair and coated with reflective metal.
When the web was launched, the solar shield folded to fit into the Ariane 5 rocket that carried the telescope into space. The eight-day process of spreading and tightening the protective shield began on December 28th. This includes expanding the support structure for the shield several days before the tension or tightness of each layer begins.
The fifth layer of sunscreen was tightened and secured to ET at 11:59 a.m. Tuesday.
Overall, the whole process, controlled by groups on earth, involves the proper, integrated movement of hundreds of output mechanisms, hinges, sorting motors, pulleys and cables.
“The membrane tension phase of the Sunshield deployment is particularly challenging because of the complex interactions between structures, tension mechanisms, cables and membranes,” said James Cooper, NASA’s Web Sunshield Manager at the Goddard Space Aviation Center. . “It was the hardest part to test on the ground, so it’s great that everything is going well today.”
Teams have been working in 12-hour shifts to ensure everything goes smoothly with Webb’s deployments.
While the Sunshield is a success, Webb’s project manager Bill O’Callaghan said the telescope’s capable of disrupting 70% to 75% of its operational efficiency in more than 300 single – point failures.
“This milestone reflects the pioneering spirit of thousands of engineers, scientists and technologists who have spent considerable parts of their careers designing, designing, producing and testing this first-class space technology,” said Jim Flynn, manager of Northrop’s Sunshield. Krumman, NASA’s primary contractor for Webb, in a statement.
The telescope has the ability to look back over time, using its infrared observations to reveal invisible features and look deeper into the universe than ever before.
Thomas Zurbuchen, co – executive director of NASA’s Directorate of Science Operations, said in a statement, “This is the first time anyone has attempted to put such a large telescope into space.” The success of its highly challenging deployment – the Sunshield – is an incredible testament to human ingenuity and engineering prowess that will enable the Web to achieve its scientific goals. “
What comes next
The web is expected to take about 29 days to reach its orbit a million miles from Earth, along with other important steps – later this week involving another major challenge: extending the telescope’s glass.
The glass can extend 21 feet and 4 inches (6.5 meters) – a large length that allows the telescope to collect more light from objects while in space. The more light the glass can collect, the more details the telescope can observe.
It is the largest mirror NASA has ever created, but its size has created a unique problem. The glass was too large to fit inside the rocket. Engineers have folded the telescope in origami style and designed a series of moving parts that can be fitted to launch at intervals of 16-feet (5-meters).
Finally, the web will make another orbital adjustment to insert itself into orbit beyond the moon.
It will orbit for 29 days, a period of time during which the telescope will run in space, lasting about five and a half months, which will include cooling, aligning and calibrating its instruments. All tools will go through the check out process to see how they work.
The Web will begin collecting data and its first images in 2022, and is expected to be released in June or July, which will always change the way we view and understand the universe.