The flight controller powered the telescope’s engines for 297 seconds on Monday, just as planned. As a result, the speed increased slightly, enough to “turn it off”. James Webb is now flying in a stable place in the Earth’s shadow and orbiting around the Sun with the Earth. It uses as little energy as possible there, has an unobstructed view of the universe and can easily send pictures and measurements.
James Webb is the successor to the famous Hubble Space Telescope, which has been in operation since 1990. Its end is near. That is why Europe, the United States and Canada developed the new telescope. From the Netherlands, Leiden University and research institute TNO are involved in the project, among others.
The new space telescope the size of a tennis court. The core is a 6.5-meter mirror, six times the size of Hubble. I flipped that mirror two weeks ago. It picks up light from space and reflects it onto a second mirror, which collects the light and sends it to the measuring instruments on the panel. The main mirror consists of eighteen hexagons that sit together, but each can move independently of the other for focus. The mirror is made of beryllium, with a small 100-nanometer-thick layer of gold on top. This is a thousand times thinner than a human hair or paper. Beryllium is light, strong and can withstand extreme cold. Gold ensures that the mirror can better see infrared light.
Among other things, James Webb has to search for planets where life might be possible, distant galaxies and traces of the Big Bang. It can be seen in time past a billion years further than Hubble. At his workplace away from the sun, the temperature is minus 233 degrees. This extreme cold makes the measurements more accurate and reliable. The total project cost will be around 8 billion euros.
James Webb can’t start right away. One of the measuring instruments on the panel must be cooled to minus 266 degrees. This takes about a month. After that, it takes a few months to test if everything is working properly. James Webb will probably be able to take the first measurements in the summer.
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