NASA has started its venture of replacing the iconic Hubble Telescope with its successor the James Webb Telescope in next two years as it receives the first set of mirrors. Laying the first brick, NASA has successfully installed the first of 18 flight mirrors onto the Webb which is very critical for the construction of the space observatory.
With the help of a robotic arm, a team of engineers assembled the hexagonal shaped structures at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre in Greenbelt. Each structure measures nearly 1.3 metres diagonally while it weighs about 40 kilogrammes and together the 18 piece structure forms a one large 6.5-metre gigantic mirror. It was the first assembly of the telescope and full installation of the space observatory is expected to complete by the first quarter of 2016. It is to be noticed that Hubble’s mirror measures only 8-foot-diameter (2.4 meters). Below is the comparison of mirror size of Hubble telescope with James Webb telescope in reference to size of humans.
Each of the 18 mirrors can adjust its shape and direction once deployed in space for exploration. While deciding the material to manufacture the mirrors, engineers chose beryllium since it is ultra-lightweight and has stable thermal and mechanical properties at very low temperatures. In addition, every mirror has been coated with a thin layer of gold to reflect the infrared light. Features of Webb aren’t complete yet, the most interesting feature of the Hubble’s successor is its five layer sunshield that is of the size of a tennis court which has the capability to reduce the heat from coming from the Sun by a million times.
After the successful installation, John Grunsfeld, Astronaut and associate administrator of Science Mission Directorate said that engineers have achieved the first milestone after a tremendous amount of work by an incredibly dedicated team. He further added that this was just the start assembly and primary assembly will start soon. It is expected that Webb will start space exploration in 2018.
James Webb Space Telescope is being developed to study stars, galaxies, cosmos, study the evolution of our solar system, examine the formation of stellar systems and search alien life in exoplanets in other galaxies. It is expected that the data obtained from the Webb telescope will help science to take a giant leap ahead and will help us better understand our universe.