Science

James Webb Space Telescope Begins to Deploy Massive, Delicate Sunscreen

NASA’s massive new space observatory has entered its most dangerous phase yet as it begins the careful process of deploying its delicate parasol.

The James Webb Space Telescope launched on Sunday (December 25) and will be a revolutionary new observatory focused on studying the universe in infrared light. But first, it has to survive a month-long journey to final publication and a carefully choreographed implementation process.

On Tuesday (December 28), the spacecraft took another key step in that deployment by deploying the Forward Unitary Pallet Structure (UPS) from its vast parasol, according to a NASA statement. The process took four hours and concluded at 1:21 p.m. EST (1821 GMT), according to the agency. Webb then mimicked that process with Aft UPS, which finished rolling out at about 7:27 pm EST Tuesday (0027 Dec 29 GMT), the agency said in an update.

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The forward UPS deployment included dozens of individual steps, NASA officials wrote. The successful maneuver marks the first step in the five-day process of preparing the sun visor, which will protect Webb’s sensitive instruments from solar radiation.

“While the actual movement to lower the front pallet from its storage position to its deployed position took only 20 minutes, and the lowering of the rear pallet took only 18 minutes, the overall process took several hours for each due to the dozens of additional steps required, “NASA officials said in a statement. “These include closely monitoring structural temperatures, maneuvering the observatory relative to the sun to provide optimal temperatures, turning on heaters to heat key components, activating release mechanisms, configuring electronics and software, and ultimately locking the vanes in. its place”.

The parasol deployment process is likely to end around January 3, although each stage of the deployment sequence is controlled from the ground and the timeline can be adjusted as deemed convenient by NASA and its partners.

After deploying the two UPS frames, Webb’s next key steps will be to deploy the deployable tower assembly, release the sunshade cover, and begin to deploy the sunshade.

If all goes according to plan, the observatory will be in its final configuration and in orbit within a month of launch. The spacecraft will orbit Lagrange point 2 between Earth and the Sun, or L2, a point located about 930,000 miles (1.5 million kilometers) from Earth on the opposite side from the sun. Like the delicate hood, this location is crucial to allow instruments to collect infrared observations.

Editor’s Note: This article was updated with the confirmation of the deployment of the UPS Aft.

Email Meghan Bartels at mbartels@ or follow her on Twitter @meghanbartels. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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