Four days after the picture-perfect launch on board an Ariane 5 rocket, the James Webb space telescope has not only started to unfold the sun shield. According to NASA, data transmitted to earth also indicate that the first maneuvers required so little fuel that the instrument “significantly longer“than 10 years of research I will be able to do.
The team adds that the estimated minimum was five years. The head of Arianespace had already proudly made public how well the start went and how close the achieved values are to the calculated optimum. The fuel that the telescope was able to save remains with the instrument so that it can stay in position for longer at its target location and conduct research.
Refueling is not excluded
The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) was launched from Kourou in French Guiana on December 25th, with some delay. Since then, it has been on its one-month journey to the so-called Lagrange point L2, which is four times as far from the earth as the moon. There, the telescope is protected from the sun, earth and moon by the tennis court-sized sun shield and looks away into the depths of space. Because it is an infrared telescope, it has to be operated extremely cool in order not to disturb itself with its own infrared radiation. Only in summer 2022 will it have cooled down to the required 40 Kelvin (minus 233 degrees Celsius) and start work. The expectations of the instrument are gigantic.
Although the instrument is designed to complete its mission this far from Earth and then switch it off, refueling is at least not impossible, reports The Verge. Astronauts and astronauts could not fly to JWST with current technology, but that may change in the foreseeable future. But people would be too warm to be near the sensitive instrument anyway. But an autonomous satellite that refueled the space telescope is conceivable. The connections for this are available and the corresponding markings have been added. No one at NASA is currently thinking about it, but if the JWST is the hoped-for success, that should change.
But if you first want to know what the space telescope is doing on its way to its destination, you can do so on a special one furnished site of NASA always in view. There is also an artist’s representation of how far the instrument has already been unfolded. Four days after the start, the JWST has already moved more than 550,000 kilometers from the earth and almost 40 percent of the distance to the destination behind it. The particularly delicate unfolding of the huge mirror is to begin on January 4th and last almost until it reaches Lagrange point L2. No one among those responsible can really sleep peacefully for a while.
(Image: ESA / Hubble)