NASA James Webb Telescope has fully deployed its primary mirror for the first time, another milestone for the space project. Earlier, NASA had paused all the work related to the telescope due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused a delay in the launch of the telescope. Now, NASA has given us something to look forward to.
In one of the recent tests, the James Webb telescope was able to successfully extend and unfold its entire length covering 6.5 meters primary mirror. The mirror opened up to the same configuration as it will in space. In fact, this is the largest mirror of its kind built by NASA. As part of the test, the mirror was hooked to specialized gravity-offsetting equipment that simulated the zero-gravity environment in space. While the mirror deployed the full mirror, it also successfully achieved it in a space-like environment. NASA noted that the engineers and technicians will deploy Webb’s primary mirror only one more time before it’s shipped off to its launch site.
The James Webb telescope is the next-generation instrument tested to be future-proof. The mirror on the telescope is a critical piece of the instrument as a telescope’s sensitivity is directly related to the size of its mirror, which determines how much light the telescope can collect from the objects it observes.
As the largest telescope to date, Webb’s mirror needed to be really big for the instrument to be as powerful as possible. Moreover, the mirror is so big, it can’t fit inside a rocket while fully extended, which is why it needs to fold up to be transported for its final destination. This further explains why it’s the ability to fold up and then unfurl, ready to get to work, is crucial. Announcing the success of the test, Lee Feinberg, the optical telescope element manager at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center said that it “is another significant milestone showing Webb will deploy properly in space. This is a great achievement and an inspiring image for the entire team.”