NASA is preparing to launch a space telescope that will see further into the Universe than anything else ever built. The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), named after James E Webb, the Nasa boss who oversaw the Apollo Moon-landing project, has taken 30 years and £7.5bn to develop. It is being described as one of the grand scientific endeavors of the 21st Century.
Revolutionize our understanding of distant planets
What we can achieve with the James Webb Telescope
The James Webb Space Telescope, a joint collaboration between NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency, is set to be the most powerful space telescope ever. We will be able to see just about anything in the sky. It has one overriding objective – to see the light coming from the very first stars to shine in the Universe. These pioneer stars are thought to have switched on about 100-200 million years after the Big Bang, or a little over 13.5 billion years ago.
Webb will be picking out groupings of these stars. They are so far away, their light – even though it moves at 300,000km (186,000 miles) per second – will have taken billions of years to travel the cosmos. Webb is the first telescope to be able to see (or at least detect a faint glow from) the moment when the darkness ended and those first stars flickered into life.
Why we want to see further than ever before
When the Universe was formed in the Big Bang, it contained only three chemical elements – hydrogen, helium and a smattering of lithium. Every other chemical element – including those vital to life, such as carbon and oxygen – had to be forged, or “manufactured”, by nuclear reactions at the center of stars.
This telescope will help us understand the origins of everything we see around us, and even more than that – how we came to be.
How does the James Webb Telescope differ from existing space telescopes?
It’s much bigger than the Hubble telescope, which has been orbiting Earth since 1990 collecting light using a main mirror that’s 2.4m across. Webb has a primary mirror that’s a staggering 6.5m in diameter. And with all the other associated equipment, Webb is almost the size of a tennis court. It’s so big, in fact, it has to be folded to fit inside its launch rocket.
Apart from its size, one key aspect of Webb is that it is tuned to detect light that Hubble simply cannot. This light is invisible to the human eye, but it’s the type of light in which the glow from the most distant objects in the Universe will show up.
How does the Telescope actually work?
The telescope is basically an instrument that is extremely sensitive to the infrared light emerging from the farthest corners of our universe. A light beam becomes infrared when its wavelength gets stretched as it travels for billions of years and billions of light-years. The Webb telescope will gather these infrared wavelengths, break down their properties and squeeze out any and every information stored in them about their origin and the environment they traveled through in many years.
NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has a shiny giant mirror made of gold hexagons – here’s why
Have you seen images online of a giant, golden honeycomb poised to launch into space? That’s the iconic mirror that will allow the James Webb Space Telescope to study corners of the cosmos that we’ve never before seen.
Aside from its hexagonal shape and enormous size, Webb’s most distinctive feature is probably its shiny, gold mirror. The mirror is made up of 18 smaller mirrors that together allow mission teams to use the scope to measure light from extremely distant galaxies, billions of light-years away. Fun fact about these gold mirrors – they are said to reflect 98% of incoming photons and are painted gold
Now, while Webb’s mirror segments are coated in gold, they are not made of solid gold. They are actually constructed from beryllium, a strong but lightweight metal. Each mirror piece weighs about 46 pounds (20 kilograms) on Earth. In addition to being extremely durable while comparably lightweight, beryllium can also hold its shape at the extreme cold temperatures that Webb will need to operate at, according to a NASA statement.
When will it launch?
After many delays, Webb is scheduled to go into orbit on christmas eve, 24 December 2021. It will be launched on a European Ariane-5 rocket from French Guiana. The European Space Agency is a partner on the project, and has agreed to take on the responsibility of getting Webb into space.
Expando inspired by the James Webb Space Telescope
In order to carry out this mission, several innovative and powerful new technologies have been developed. The James Webb Telescope will have a unique and profound role in transforming our understanding of astrophysics and the origins of galaxies, stars, and planetary systems. As a company that operates at the heart of innovation in the defense and aerospace industries, we understand how essential these developments are to maintaining our technological edge and security. This project has been exciting to follow and we look forward to the launch which is the key to expanding our knowledge of the universe.
Expando provides advanced systems and services for commercial, military and government customers worldwide. With 20 years of experience, we have a broad portfolio that allows us to deliver high quality specialized solutions and space qualified components that push the boundaries in different environments, such as space, aerospace, defense, industrial and commercial avionics.
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