James Webb Space Telescope Successfully Deploys Antenna

NASA’s new James Webb Space Telescope successfully deployed a critical antenna on Sunday (December 26) just one day after its Christmas launch into space.

The space telescope deployed what scientists call a carded antenna array that carries the high-speed data plate responsible for transmitting Webb’s observations of the early universe to Earth. Webb launched into space on Saturday on an Ariane 5 rocket that took off from a spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.

“This antenna will be used to send at least 28.6 Gbytes of scientific data from the observatory, twice a day,” NASA officials wrote in a mission update. “The team has now published and tested the movement of the antenna assembly; the whole process took about an hour.”

Related: How the James Webb Space Telescope Works in Pictures
Live Updates: NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope Mission

The $ 10 billion Webb Space Telescope is designed to study the universe’s first stars and other cosmic mysteries. It is the largest and most powerful telescope ever launched into space.

Saturday’s antenna deployment was the latest in a month-long series of steps to prepare the space telescope for its deep space observing mission. Webb is currently on a 29-day journey to a stable point in space called Lagrange Point 2, or L2, which is nearly 1 million miles (1.6 million kilometers) from Earth. From there, the infrared space telescope will observe the universe.

In addition to antenna deployment and testing, Webb flight controllers activated the telescope’s voltage and temperature gauges for the first time, according to the NASA update. Those gauges will allow flight controllers to monitor the temperature and structural health of the Webb Space Telescope in the coming days.

Related: 5 Missions To Expect After The James Webb Space Telescope

Having an accurate reading of Webb’s temperature and structural loads is key for mission scientists and engineers because one of the most distressing periods for the space telescope is yet to come: the deployment of its massive parasol.

The James Webb Space Telescope is an infrared observatory designed to make the most detailed observations in history, but only if it can be kept cool enough. To do that, Webb will deploy a huge, multi-layered sunshade the size of a tennis court that will unfold in stages over the first eight days after launch. The first step in that deployment process is expected to begin on Tuesday (December 28), three days after the mission.

The immediate next step for the Webb Space Telescope will be a second mid-course correction burn, a maneuver designed to refine its course toward L2. That maneuver, the second of three planned burns, is expected to be completed later in the day Monday.

Email Tariq Malik at tmalik@ or follow him at @tariqjmalik. Follow us on @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Instagram.

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