Webb’s skill set will also include observing planets – some possibly Earth-like – that orbit in other galaxies. One Webb target is the Andromeda galaxy, which is closest to our galaxy, which reveals its nature far more in the infrared spectrum than in visible light. Telescopes also have several forms of spectrograph imaging to study the composition of stars and planets.
But before this can be done any research, Webb has to get to the station. First, the launch itself must be successful. Then the telescope must carry out a difficult series of maneuvers with the first 13 hours of flight, including two important tasks. About 33 minutes after liftoff, Webb will have to deploy its solar array to begin producing electricity. Then about 12 hours later, the craft should begin a course-correction rocket burn to correct its trajectory toward its final destination.
The two should be fine-tuned long before the web completes its 29-day journey of post.
The telescope’s workstation is called the second Lagrange point, which is “behind” Earth when viewed from the Sun. This location is one of five such points where the gravitational balance of the Sun and Earth allows a spacecraft to take it with it. This reduces the amount of propellant needed for the craft to maintain its orbit.
The darkness and cold of space are integral to Webb’s infrared function. After rolling out his solar array, Webb will have to complete additional “unfolding”. The craft would need to deploy a large scaffolding structure to support a sunscreen that shields it from heat and light, followed by a five-layer Kapton sunscreen. A telescope operating at temperatures below -229 C will always be away from Earth, the Sun and the Moon.
After those maneuvers, the spacecraft will reveal 18 small, hexagonal mirrors that fit together up to a nanometer across, which includes the telescope’s 6.5-meter mirror. After assembly and arrival at Lamgrid point, Webb will have six months of mirror alignment, instrument calibration and other tests before beginning its mission.
If successful, Webb’s ascent will undoubtedly appease the thousands of scientists who have seen in despair the many missteps, rising costs and slipped deadlines as the project, which Congress nearly 10 years ago due to a massive budget overrun. had failed. The main contractor is Northrop Grumman Corp.
University of Chicago near-field cosmologist and assistant professor Alex Gee said Webb is likely to have his earliest “win” in the field of exoplanet observations, planets that orbit stars in galaxies.
“I think it’s going to have an impact on the same level as Hubble,” Gee said, noting the iconic images collected by the telescope capture the public’s imagination. “The thing about this telescope’s power in the whole field of astrophysics is how many people get excited about it.”