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NASA’s Next Big Space Telescope Aces Key Mirror Experiment 

James <a  href=
Webb Space Telescope" width="300" height="191" /> James Webb Space Telescope

NASA’s next big space telescope is getting its light-collecting gear ready to go. Technicians successfully tested deployment of the secondary mirror on the James Webb Space Telescope, which is expected to launch soon.

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Despite its name, the secondary mirror has a huge role to play in the success of the Webb telescope’s mission. And the technicians had just one chance to get the design right, as the telescope will orbit too far from Earth for astronauts to fix any mistakes.

When Webb is fully deployed, the secondary mirror will sit in front of honeycomb-like primary mirrors. After these mirrors pick up light from a distant object, the secondary mirror will collect their individual signals. Then, the secondary mirror will funnel the combined light beam through tertiary and fine-steering mirrors, finally bringing the signal to the four instruments on Webb that will help scientists with their astronomical analysis.

: Building the James Webb Space Telescope Gallery

Following a successful deployment experiment of the James Webb Space Telescope’s mission-critical secondary mirror, technicians and engineers visually inspect the support structure that holds it in place.

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The proper deployment and positioning of its secondary mirror are what makes this a telescope — without it, Webb would not be able to carry out the revolutionary science we expect it to achieve. This successful deployment experiment is another significant step towards completing the final observatory, Lee Feinberg, optical telescope element manager for Webb at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, noted in a statement Tuesday, Aug.

The function on the secondary mirror also represents a key milestone in Webb’s construction, as this experiment was the previous major step before putting the telescope together as a complete observatory, NASA officials noted. This experiment also showed that the electronic connections in the telescope are working, including delivering commands between components.

Engineers carry out inspections of the James Webb Space Telescope’s secondary mirror following a recently successful deployment experiment at Northrop Grumman in Redondo Beach, California.

Northrop Grumman

Webb is expected to launch on an Ariane rocket from French Guiana in March. In the following month, the instrument will travel a million miles. Million kilometers to its observing location: the Earth-sun Lagrange point, a gravitationally stable point in space. This spot has been used for past space missions, including Europe’s Herschel Space Observatory and Planck telescope.

The Webb telescope is billed as the successor to NASA’s venerable Hubble Space Telescope, whose numerous achievements over nearly years include helping refine astronomers calculations of the expansion rate of the universe. However, this high-level technology comes at a cost. Webb’s launch has been delayed by nearly seven years, while the observatory’s cost estimate nearly doubled, from an initial estimate of $ billion into billions of dollars as of June.

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