On January 24, the James Webb turned on its engines for 297 seconds to make the final course correction and enter a working halo orbit around L2, located one and a half million kilometers from Earth.
As part of the Virtual Telescope Project (a cutting-edge astronomy service launched in 2006 by the Bellatrix Astronomical Observatory in Ceccano, Italy), astronomers took images from the James Webb Telescope.
The image and short animation below show the James Webb Space Telescope when it was located about 1.4 million kilometers away from Earth.
Mission Progress: James Webb’s Flight to the L2 Point
On Christmas day, after decades of delays, the James Webb Space Telescope was launched on an Ariane-5 rocket. A little over a month later, the new observatory has reached its research location and will soon begin its scientific work. Here is everything you need to know about the mission to date.
On December 28, the telescope released the forward modular support structure, which contains five rolled-up solar shield membranes as well as deployment mechanisms.
On December 29, James Webb deployed a 1.2-meter DTA (Deployable Tower Assembly) telescopic support tower made of carbon composites in six and a half hours. It is needed not only as a support structure but also allows you to separate the optical system of the telescope from the screen and service platform.
Thanks to this, the mirrors will cool down to the desired temperature, and the screen will be able to open. After that, the rear modular screen support structure was lowered.
On December 31, 2021, the observatory began deploying the screen support structures, which took a day. The tensioning of the first, second, and third layers of the screen were completed on January 3, 2022, and on January 4, a team of specialists carried out the tensioning of the fourth and fifth layers, which was completed by the evening.
The heat shield is necessary for the telescope to protect against radiation from the Sun, Earth, and Moon, and allows the optical system and scientific instruments to cool to very low temperatures. The screen, which is about the size of a tennis court, consists of support structures and five separate, thin Kapton membranes.
Calculations show that the maximum temperature of the first layer of the screen facing the Sun will be 383 Kelvin, and the minimum temperature of the fifth layer will be 36 Kelvin.
The final operation of the James Webb deployment was the layout of its main mirror.
On January 5, 2022, a secondary mirror was deployed. On January 7, the observatory unfolded and fixed the position of the left side section of the main mirror containing 3 segments, and on January 8, the right side section.
On January 19, 2022, James Webb completed the operation of extending 18 primary mirror segments, as well as 132 drives located on the rear side of the primary and secondary mirror segments. She took ten days. The primary mirror segments were offset by 12.5 millimeters from their original position so that the mirrors could later be fine-tuned to give the primary mirror a parabolic shape.
And finally, on January 24, the James Webb turned on its engines for 297 seconds to make the final course correction and enter a working halo orbit around L2, located one and a half million kilometers from Earth.
The flight from the Earth to the second Lagrange point in the Sun-Earth system took the observatory 29 days.
Scientific observations will begin in five months
Now, the telescope has begun a five-month preparation for scientific observations and cool down to operating temperatures. It will take three months to align the optical system, and another two to calibrate the scientific instruments.
The first images of the telescope will be published only this summer. It is expected that the fuel to maintain the orbit of the observatory will last at least 10 years.
However, it should be mentioned that while the official scientific observations are to begin in the summer, the telescope will soon take its first images that will be used to complete the alignment of the main mirror.
Scientists have picked a star located 241 light-years away called HD 84406. James Webb will be turned towards the object for the next few months until the control team completes the arrangement of mirrors.
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• Fisher, A. (2022, January 13). Mirror, mirror…on its way! NASA.
• Fisher, A. (2022, January 24). Orbital insertion burn a success, Webb arrives at L2. NASA.
• Masi, G. (2022, January 26). James Webb Space Telescope: A new image and video – 24 Jan. 2022. The Virtual Telescope Project 2.0.
• O’Neill, M. (2022, February 1). James Webb Space Telescope commissioning set to begin. SciTechDaily.
• O’Neill, M. (2022, February 1). What NASA’s James Webb looks like from powerful Earth Telescopes. SciTechDaily.
• Pultarova, T. (2022, February 1). NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope turns on cameras to look at first star target. Space.com.