On January 7 and 8, 2021, two wings of 6.4-m (21-foot) gold-coated primary mirror of the NASA/ESA/CA James Webb Space Telescope were deployed and latched successfully.
“Today, NASA achieved another engineering milestone decades in the making,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson.
“While the journey is not complete, I join the Webb team in breathing a little easier and imagining the future breakthroughs bound to inspire the world.”
“Webb is an unprecedented mission that is on the precipice of seeing the light from the first galaxies and discovering the mysteries of our Universe.”
“Each feat already achieved and future accomplishment is a testament to the thousands of innovators who poured their life’s passion into this mission.”
“The successful unfolding of the Webb telescope has been a complex but impressive engineering masterpiece,” ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher.
“On behalf of ESA, I want to sincerely congratulate our colleagues at NASA for this achievement.”
“Webb is an international partnership led by NASA, where ESA is providing key contributions in the form of instruments, science teams and, very importantly, a successful launch on Christmas Day from the European Spaceport in Kourou.”
“I am grateful to NASA, CSA and our European team including CNES, Arianespace and ArianeGroup for this excellent cooperation.”
The two wings of Webb’s primary mirror had been folded to fit inside the nose cone of an Arianespace Ariane 5 rocket prior to launch.
After more than a week of other critical spacecraft deployments, the Webb team began remotely unfolding the hexagonal segments of the primary mirror, the largest ever launched into space.
This was a multi-day process, with the first (port) side of the mirror deployed on January 7 and the second (starboard) side of the mirror deployed on January 8.
Mission Operations Center ground control at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore began deployment of the starboard mirror at 1:53 p.m. GMT (2:53 p.m. CET).
Once the primary mirror’s second side panel extended out and latched into position at 6:17 p.m. GMT (7:17 p.m. CET), all deployments were declared complete.
The world’s largest and most complex space science observatory will now begin releasing and moving its 18 primary mirror segments to align the telescope optics.
The ground team will command 126 actuators on the backside of the segmented mirrors into position and flex each mirror — an alignment process that will take months to complete.
Then, the science instruments will undergo a calibration period, prior to delivering Webb’s first images this summer.
“I am so proud of the team — spanning continents and decades — that delivered this first-of-its kind achievement,” said Dr. Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters.
“Webb’s successful deployment exemplifies the best of what NASA has to offer: the willingness to attempt bold and challenging things in the name of discoveries still unknown.”
Soon, Webb will also undergo a third mid-course correction burn — one of three planned to place the telescope precisely in orbit around the second Lagrange point, commonly known as L2 (1.5 million km, or 0.93 million miles, from Earth).
This is Webb’s final orbital position, where its sunshield will protect it from light from the Sun, Earth, and Moon that could interfere with observations of infrared light.
“The successful completion of all of Webb’s deployments is historic,” said Dr. Gregory Robinson, Webb program director at NASA Headquarters.
“This is the first time a NASA-led mission has ever attempted to complete a complex sequence to unfold an observatory in space — a remarkable feat for our team, NASA, and the world.”
“We are thrilled that the complex telescope unfolding worked successfully,” said Professor Günther Hasinger, ESA Director of Science.
“Now we hold our breath for the optics alignment, the instrument commissioning, and finally the fascinating first science results.”
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