NASA’s most technically complex space telescope, the James Webb Space Telescope, was slated for launch in 2007. Now, after years of delay-plagued development, the telescope may finally get its place in the night sky.
NASA recently announced that it’s completed its final litany of critical software and electrical systems tests, theoretically clearing it for launch as soon as 2021. It’s the “largest and most technically complex space science telescope NASA has ever built,” according to a statement.
It’s an international collaboration of unprecedented proportions between NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Canadian Space Agency. Engineers worked 24 hours a day for 15 days straight, executing over a thousand scripts and instructions — a 1,370 step process, according to NASA.
The 21-feet-wide telescope will observe distant space, orbiting the Sun instead of the Earth, but at a distance called the Lagrange point that will keep pace with the Earth. Its iconic 18 hexagonal mirror segments, each over four feet in diameter, will combine post-launch into a giant reflector that will allow the telescope to observe the stars in much lower frequency ranges compared to its predecessor, NASA’s Hubble space telescope. An origami-like sun shield the size of a tennis court will keep it cool.
The telescope will collect invaluable data using four scientific instruments, including cameras and spectrometers, to find out more about the earliest galaxies that first formed shortly after the Big Bang. It will also observe the early life cycles of stars as they form and evolve. Another goal will be to take the temperature and investigate the chemical properties of other planetary systems to investigate if life can survive in those systems, according to NASA.
At the Optimist Daily, we love to read about and see new discoveries from space. If this telescope finally winds up in the sky in 2021, it’s sure to be a wellspring of new cosmic discoveries.