Science & Technology

NASA finishes huge mirror for James Webb Space Telescope, due for 2018 liftoff

NASA has put the 18th and last piece of the puzzle into place for the $8.8 billion James Webb Space Telescope’s main mirror – marking a significant milestone on the way in which to the observatory’s launch in 2018.

The 21.3-foot-wide mirror is so massive it couldn’t be fabricated in a single piece. As an alternative, it’s made up of 18 hexagonal segments, every spanning somewhat greater than 4 ft and weighing about 88 kilos. The final section was fastidiously laid into place utilizing a clawlike robotic arm at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Middle in Maryland on Wednesday.

“With the mirrors lastly full, we’re one step nearer to the audacious observations that may unravel the mysteries of the universe,” John Grunsfeld, NASA’s affiliate administrator for science, mentioned in a news release.

The Webb telescope, named after the administrator who led NASA in the course of the buildup to the Apollo moonshots within the Nineteen Sixties, has been within the works for 20 years.

The telescope has generally characterised as a successor to the 26-year-old Hubble Space Telescope, but it surely’s optimized to make observations in infrared wavelengths. That a part of the spectrum is a key looking floor for indicators of extrasolar planets and phenomena on the fringe of the observable universe.

Now that the first mirror is completed, the Webb crew will give attention to putting in different optical elements and testing the telescope. The prime contractor is Northrop Grumman, and Ball Aerospace & Know-how is the principal subcontractor for the optics. Harris Corp. is the subcontractor in control of integration and testing.

The telescope is due for launch in October 2018 from French Guiana on a European Ariane 5 rocket. It is going to be despatched to a gravitational stability level 1,000,000 miles away from Earth, referred to as Sun-Earth L2.

To study extra in regards to the Webb, try Scientific American’s feature about the space telescope’s construction. You’ll be able to preserve tabs on the crew’s progress through Goddard Space Flight Center’s “WebbCam.”

At midday PT at the moment, you may join a Google Hangout with Webb scientists and engineers. And keep tuned for “Telescope,” a TV documentary that may make its debut on Discovery Channel and Science Channel in the course of the weekend of Feb. 20-21. (Examine native listings.)

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