NASA has started a year-long launch countdown to the James Webb Space Telescope, despite the overall progress of the project affected by the COVID-19 outbreak triggered by the new coronavirus. NASA has recently completed the deployment of the telescope’s giant main mirror at its assembly facility to ensure it can move smoothly in a space environment. After all, sending a mechanic 1.5 million kilometers from Earth is not an easy task.
The James Webb Space Telescope’s main mirror is believed to be a staggering 6.5 meters (21.3 feet) wide, the largest ever sent into space by humans.
In order to load the rocket at launch, it must fold the wings in order to not affect the installation of the rocket rectifier. It is only adjusted to the maximum stretch size once it is safely in space.
The James Webb Space Telescope’s Folding Mirrors (via)
In early March, NASA conducted a thorough test of the James Webb Space Telescope’s main mirror deployment system. Thanks to the built-in electronic system, it is able to expand the mirrors on both sides to form a complete body.
Of course, testing on Earth is very different from the zero-gravity space environment. To do this, NASA called in special equipment suspended from the ceiling to lift the components carefully.
When actually deployed, the main mirror will be able to perform this series of actions more freely in space. Lee Feinberg, director of components for the James Webb Space Telescope, says:
“This complete assembly test represents an important milestone in the project, demonstrating that the telescope can be properly deployed in space. It’s also a pretty encouraging achievement for the team.”
Tests at the James Webb Space Telescope remain on the bench due to the COVID-19 outbreak. NASA is expected to conduct routine tests on tower components sometime in April.
The agency will then re-evaluate the situation and suspend operations at the facility. If all goes well, the James Webb Space Telescope will be launched on March 30, 2020.