The much-awaited window to the far reaches of the cosmos is in the final stages of preparation as the James Webb Telescope opened its iconic primary mirror for one last time on Earth, marking a key milestone in the preparations for its launch set for later this year.
The 6.5-meter mirror was commanded to fully expand and lock itself into place marking a critical checkpoint in a long series of tests designed to ensure Webbs 18 hexagonal mirrors are prepared for the long journey in space.
The James Webb Telescope will replace the vintage Hubble telescope that has so far acted as the binoculars into the journey of the cosmos.
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Following the mirror’s safety checks, “all of Webbs many movable parts will have confirmed in testing that they can perform their intended operations after being exposed to the expected launch environment,” the James Webb Telescope team said in a statement. The primary mirror is a technological marvel. The lightweight mirrors, coatings, actuators and mechanisms, electronics and thermal blankets when fully deployed form a single precise mirror that is truly remarkable, said Lee Feinberg, optical telescope element manager for Webb at Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Center.
During the testing, commands were relayed to the telescope to unlatch and deploy the side panels of the mirror. In a bid to create the zero-gravity environment in which Webb will function, the team attached special gravity offsetting equipment to Webb. However, all of the final thermal blanketing and innovative shielding designed to protect its mirrors and instruments from interference were in place during testing.
The size of the giant telescope had posed a serious transportation challenge for Nasa and therefore scientists used a new foldable design with movable parts that have been specifically made to fold themselves to a compact formation, making the telescope considerably smaller than when it is fully deployed. The new design has made it possible for the telescope to fit inside a 16-foot rocket fairing that will lift it off the ground later this year.
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“To deploy, operate and bring its golden mirrors into focus requires 132 individual actuators and motors in addition to complex backend software to support it. A proper deployment in space is critically important to the process of fine-tuning Webbs individual mirrors into one functional and massive reflector. Once the wings are fully extended and in place, extremely precise actuators on the backside of the mirror position and bend or flex each mirror into a specific prescription,” Nasa said.
Scientists are hopeful that once deployed the James Webb telescope will solve mysteries of our Solar System, look beyond the distant worlds around other stars, and probe the mysterious structures and origins of our universe and our place in it.

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