New success for the James Webb space telescope! The last stage of its deployment, that of its main mirror, was successfully completed this Saturday.
The telescope’s iconic main mirror measures around 6.5 meters in diameter, so it was too large to fit into a rocket as it was when it lifted off two weeks ago. Its two sides must therefore have been folded back. The first of these two wings was deployed on Friday, and the second opened on Saturday morning, as planned, NASA said. The space agency teams continued to lock it in place, however, in order to secure it permanently.
“I am moved”, declared live by video Thomas Zurbuchen, responsible for scientific missions at NASA. “What an extraordinary step. “
Deploying such a telescope in space, not only of its mirrors but also of its heat shield earlier this week, was an ultra-perilous procedure that had never been carried out in the past. Astronomers around the world can breathe a big sigh of relief today, as the mission now looks very successful. Before being operational, however, the telescope will still have to reach its final orbit 1.5 million kilometers from Earth, and scientific instruments will have to continue to cool before being very precisely calibrated.
The most powerful space observatory ever designed, James Webb must notably make it possible to observe the first galaxies, formed only about 200 million years after the Big Bang. It is flown from Baltimore, on the US East Coast. NASA broadcast live footage from the control room on Saturday morning, where dozens of engineers applauded with joy at the announcement of the full deployment.