NASA Deploys Its Gigantic James Webb Space Telescope Mirror for the First Time

The telescope is due to launch in 2021.
Fabienne Lang
NASA's James Webb Space TelescopeNASA Goddard

When it launches in 2021, NASA's James Webb Space Telescope will be a first-of-its-kind premier observatory of the upcoming decade, says NASA. 

Just last month, despite facing the worry of shutdowns and major changes due to the coronavirus pandemic, NASA successfully tested and deployed the giant golden mirror of the telescope. The team has hit another major milestone on its journey in Space.


The telescope and testing

The telescope is made up of a 6.4 meter (21 foot 4-inches) primary mirror which is so big it has to be folded, in origami fashion. The massive length of the mirror will allow the telescope to pick up more light from objects it sees once it's up in Space. The more light the mirror can collect, the more the telescope can see. 

As per NASA, this is the largest mirror it's ever built. However, with that accolade comes a price: as it's so big, it can't fit into the Ariane 5 rocket that it's due to launch in from French Guiana next year. Hence the NASA team has had to create the origami folding style. 

NASA Deploys Its Gigantic James Webb Space Telescope Mirror for the First Time
The telescope partially deployed, Source: NASA

This latest test saw the mirror fully deployed for the first time ever, in the same way it'll be in Space. The test was carried out in the cleanroom of Northrup Grumman Space Systems in California.

During the test, before the telescope sees liftoff next year, the telescope was placed in a simulated zero-gravity space so that the NASA team could ensure it would be able to unfurl properly once in Space. 

"Deploying both wings of the telescope while part of the fully assembled observatory is another significant milestone showing Webb will deploy properly in space. This is a great achievement and an inspiring image for the entire team," said Lee Feinberg, optical telescope element manager for Webb at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. 

This is promising news for the space agency, especially as it will surely face uncertain days ahead amid the coronavirus pandemic as future testing will likely be constrained.

Onsite personnel has had to be minimized and reduced to different shift work, with potential temporary closure in the near future. For now, though, the NASA team continues to work in as safe conditions as possible and can celebrate this fantastic milestone in their space journey.

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