NASA’s next big space telescope has just taken another step towards its highly anticipated launch in 2021.
I $ 9.8 billion James Webb space telescope has passed “environmental tests,” a series of tests designed to simulate the considerable rigors of launch, NASA officials announced today (Oct. 6).
“Successful completion of our observatory’s environmental tests represents[s] a milestone in the march to launch, “Webb project manager Bill Ochs, of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, he said today in a statement. “Environmental tests demonstrate Webb̵
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The tests took place at the Southern California facilities of the Northrop Grumman aerospace company, which is building Webb for NASA. Technicians exposed the fully assembled observatory to acoustic extremes in a special chamber, blasting Webb with sound that exceeded 140 decibels. (For comparison, the average the jackhammer generates about 110 decibels.)
Webb was then placed on a special vibrating table, which made the telescope shake with low-frequency vibrations comparable to what it will feel during its next launch. That takeoff should take place October 31, 2021, atop an Ariane V rocket from the European spaceport of Kourou, French Guiana.
“Thanks to the team’s dedication, hard work and sheer enthusiasm to be part of this complex test, it was a complete success!” Sandra Irish, also of NASA Goddard, said in the same statement the engineer responsible for the structures of mechanical systems Webb. “I have known these people for many years and it has been an honor to work with each of them.”
However, Webb is not yet ready for shipping to South America. It still has to endure a few more tests, including a full systems assessment, NASA officials said.
After take-off, the huge observatory will head towards the Earth-sun point Lagrange 2, a gravitationally stable point 930,000 miles (1.5 million kilometers) from our planet. Webb will then unfold his tennis court-sized parasol and begin studying the cosmos in infrared light using a 6.5m diameter mirror, almost three times wider than the main mirror on the Hubble Space Telescope.
Astronomers will use Webb for a variety of tasks, NASA officials said, from scanning nearby atmospheres alien planets for possible signs of life in the study of the first stars and galaxies emerged in our universe.
Mike Wall is the author of “Out There” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.