James Webb Space Telescope successfully deployed

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Artist view of James Webb Space Telescope (Public Domain), https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=56728

The deployment of the main mirror of the James Webb Space Telescope was successfully completed on Saturday 8 January. NASA’s latest gem will now continue on its way to its final destination, before entering service in just over five months.

A sigh of relief and loud applause echoed through the aisles of NASA in Baltimore (Maryland) on Saturday: at 10:28 local time, the second “wing” of the main mirror of the James Webb telescope successfully opened, culminating in the perilous deployment of the most sophisticated observatory ever sent into space.

The telescope, launched on December 25, “has two mirrors and a heat shield, all of which were to be deployed in space, which had never been done before,” US public radio NPR said. The main mirror, 6.5 metres in diameter, is so large “it must have been folded like an origami in the telescope,” adds the radio.

The heat shield – the most perilous operation – had been deployed earlier in the week, while the “unfolding” of the mirror was done in two stages: a first wing opened on Friday, before the second, on Saturday. After several hours of final adjustments, NASA confirmed that the operation was “100% successful.”

The events of the past two weeks have been truly extraordinary,” said Bill Ochs, director of the James Webb project at NASA. “Today is the start of this incredible machine’s journey to discoveries in the future.”

The telescope, the result of a $ 10 billion partnership between NASA and the European (ESA) and Canadian (CSA) space agencies, should arrive in two weeks at its final destination, 1.5 million kilometres from Earth.

Engineers will then perform calibration alignment operations for about five months, after which James Webb will finally go into service and send its first images.

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