NASA prepares to test mirror on James Webb Observatory

This third round of testing for the mirror, which has already proved capable of withstanding the harsh conditions of the launch and trip to space, is to make sure it can deploy and operate properly in space.

By Brooks Hays
NASA prepares to test mirror on James Webb Observatory
Engineers are preparing to subject the James Webb Space Telescope's science payload to another round of testing. Photo by NASA/Chris Gunn

March 12 (UPI) -- The launch of the James Webb Space Telescope is still more than a year away, but with each round of tests, the observatory's scientific promises gets closer to becoming a reality.

This week, scientists will begin subjecting the observatory's scientific payload -- the massive, golden mirror -- to another round of testing.


"Extensive and rigorous testing prior to launch has proven effective in ensuring that NASA's missions achieve their goals in space," Eric Smith, program director for Webb at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C., said in a news release. "Webb is far along into its testing phase and has seen great success with the telescope and science instruments, which will deliver the spectacular results we anticipate."

This is the third round of testing for the mirror, which proved capable of withstanding the harsh conditions of the launch and trip to space. During tests at both NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston and Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, scientists subjected the mirror to intense vibrations and extreme temperatures. Scientists also tested the mirror's ability to properly unfold.

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The scientific payload is now at the Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems facility in Redondo Beach, California, for additional tests.

The scientific payload forms one half of the observatory. The spacecraft and sunshield make up the other half. The spacecraft and sunshield are in the final stages of construction and will be tested separately before being integrated with the scientific payload.

Last year, NASA announced the telescope's launch would be delayed until the spring of 2019 due to the integration of the observatory's components taking longer than expected.

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Eventually, the entire observatory will be shipped to Kourou, French Guiana, where it will await its launch.

The observatory and its scientific components will self-deploy in space, faraway from engineers and servicing technology.

"At NASA, we do the seemingly impossible every day, and it's our job to do the hardest things humankind can think of for space exploration," said Smith. "The way we achieve success is to test, test and retest, so we understand the complex systems and verify they will work."

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Astronomers expect the rich astronomical data returned by the James Webb Space Telescope to be well worth the wait.

The telescope's 18 hexagonal mirrors will field massive amounts of infrared light, allowing scientists to peer deeper into space with greater clarity and to study the universe's first generation of stars and galaxies. The James Webb Observatory will also help scientists study the habitability of nearby exoplanets.


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