NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope Is Successfully Stretching Its Sunshield

After multiple setbacks, the telescope is back on track.
Irmak Bayrakdar

After near 30 years of planning and thorough work, NASA finally launched its long-awaited $10 billion next-gen space observatory, the James Webb Space Telescope on December 25. Following its launch, the telescope has started unfurling into its final shape.

Since they were massive at more than 21 feet (6.5 m) across, the telescope's sunshield and primary mirror had to be folded to fit into the European Ariane rocket it launched on. And the riskiest part of the process was the tightening of that massive sunshade.

Trouble in James Webb paradise

While the operation was initially smooth sailing, the team behind James Webb Space Telescope encountered some problems during the deployment of the sunshade. Even though Hubble's successor was never really in grave danger owing to its constant power flow, the deployment was considered to be the project's most challenging hurdle. First, the flight controllers in Maryland had to reset Webb’s solar panel to draw more power, then they also had to repoint the telescope to prevent any kind of overheating on its motors by limiting sunlight. 

After the motors were cooled down and it was safe to continue, the team re-started a three-day process of stretching the tennis court-sized sunshield on the James Webb Space Telescope. According to the officials, it is now in the process of being fully stretched and should be ready by Wednesday, January 5. 

What makes the sunshield so crucial for the telescope is its ability to cool down James Webb Space Telescope's enormous mirror and infrared instruments to nearly 400 degrees below zero and block out the heat of the sun while they explore the universe and the atmospheres of alien worlds for possible signs of life. 

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If all goes according to plan, Webb should be able to reach its final destination of 1 million miles (1.6 million kilometers) away from the earth by the end of this month. As of January 3, the telescope is already halfway there. By the end of June, the massive observatory should begin exploring the universe, hopefully unveiling the mysteries behind the very first stars and galaxies formed in the universe 13.7 billion years ago. 

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