Engineers have joined two halves of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope for the first time at Northrop Grumman’s facilities in California.
The telescope which is scheduled to be launched in 2021, is NASA’s most powerful and complex space telescope. Once it is sent into space, it will be exploring the universe using the infrared light, from the celestial bodies that are in our solar system to the old and distant galaxies, The Indian Express reported.
For combining both halves, the engineers used a crane, engineers gently lifted the telescope, which consists of mirrors and scientific instruments, and assembled into the body of the spacecraft. The sunshield which will be keeping the telescope cool during its operation was connected to the spacecraft segment earlier.
The team of engineers have connected the two halves mechanically and they still need to make the electrical connections between the pieces and then test them as well, NASA said in a release.
“The assembly of the telescope and its scientific instruments, sunshield and the spacecraft into one observatory represents an incredible achievement by the entire Webb team,” Bill Ochs, Webb project manager for NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland said in a statement.
“This milestone symbolizes the efforts of thousands of dedicated individuals for over more than 20 years across NASA, the European Space Agency, the Canadian Space Agency, Northrop Grumman, and the rest of our industrial and academic partners.”
The James Webb Space Telescope is considered as the successor to NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. NASA claims that it will be world’s premier space science observatory and solve mysteries that are in our solar system. It will also observe beyond to distant worlds around other stars, and probe the mysterious structures and origins of our universe.
Many scientists believe there’s another planet like Earth somewhere in the universe, and the real search to find it is about to begin.
Both major components of the telescope have been individually tested through all the environments that they would encounter during its time in the rocket and during its orbit far from earth. It will go through additional environmental and deployment testing to ensure mission success.
Initially scheduled for a 2018 launch but suffered a series of delays due to the intricacy of construction it required.
“This is an exciting time to now see all Webb’s parts finally joined together into a single observatory for the very first time,” Gregory Robinson, the Webb program director at NASA Headquarters said in the statement. “The engineering team has accomplished a huge step forward, and soon we will be able to see incredible new views of our amazing universe,” he added.
Funded by NASA in conjunction with the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), the infrared Webb telescope weighs 6 metric tons and will orbit 1.5 million kilometers from Earth. It boasts many new technological advances, including a deployable sunshield and a folding segmented mirror, MNN.com reported.
“To go to the earliest galaxies, we needed a bigger mirror, and that bigger mirror had to look at a bigger frequency of light,” says astrophysicist Blake Bullock, who is a director at Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems, the contractor on the project. “It also had to be kept cold — minus 400 degrees Fahrenheit — so it has a sun shield the size of a tennis court that acts as a giant beach umbrella,” she adds. “It’s like SPF 1 million, blocking the sun’s light.”
The mission’s total cost also increased to nearly US$10 billion, up from an US$8.7 billion estimate in 2016.