James Webb Space Telescope: Fuel is enough for 20 years of research

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The picture book launch of the James Webb space telescope on board an Ariane 5 saved so much fuel that the instrument should be operational for 20 years. This is what the responsible engineers have determined, as Mike Menzel from NASA has now announced. That would be twice as much as the planned operational readiness of 10 years, which had been targeted – a mission duration of 5 to 10 years was planned.

At its place of work at Lagrange point L2, 1.5 million kilometers from Earth, the telescope cannot be refueled with current centers, but it cannot be ruled out that this will be possible in the future.

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) was launched on December 25, 2021 from Kourou in French Guiana and has since been flying to its site, which is four times as far from the earth as the moon. It has now successfully completed the nerve-wracking process of unfolding all of the components. This includes the huge sun protection shield that protects the space telescope from infrared radiation from the sun, earth and moon, but also the various mirrors. Before it can start its scientific work in the summer, it has to cool down to the required 40 Kelvin (minus 233 degrees Celsius), among other things. The expectations of the Hubble successor are gigantic.

In view of the new statement on the expected operational readiness of the space telescope, the praise for Arianespace is even louder. Shortly after the start, the CEO Stéphane Israël proudly made public how close the achieved values ​​were to the optimum. How much the space telescope has benefited from this has only slowly become clear. Initially it was said that the telescope would be able to carry out research “significantly longer” than 10 years. We are now talking about 20 years.

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ArsTechnica now quotes Rüdiger Albat from Arianespace, who explains how the building of the rocket for the JWST was checked again with extra precision. In addition, the best components have always been selected in order to really achieve the very best performance. Obviously it succeeded.

While the most exciting days after the start came to an end with unfolding the main mirror, the procedures for preparing the scientific work are now much slower. This is what Alexandra Lockwood from the Space Telescope Science Institute explained. The main focus will be on bringing the main and secondary mirrors into their final position, and this also applies to the scientific instruments. They then still have to be calibrated, she explained. During the whole time, the space telescope will continue to cool down until it finally reaches its operating temperature. In view of the successes already achieved in building the telescope, however, words cannot describe the pride and excitement one feels.


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