Astronomy News – Mankind’s Journey to the Beginning of Space and Time is about to voyage into unknown areas of the universe in search of answers to questions that were in the minds of the first-star gazers. Why are we here? Are we alone in the universe or is life abundant? Plans to launch the James Webb Space Telescope into orbit in 2014, or earlier in 2015, are still on target, and this telescope will allow mankind to delve into regions of the universe and look for answers to these questions and more technical questions. The largest telescope ever constructed by mankind, the James Webb Space Telescope is slowly beginning to take shape in three NASA space centers around the United States.
A combined effort between the Canadian space agencies, NASA, and the European Space Agency, the James Webb Space Telescope is designed to allow us to view the universe in ways never before experienced by humankind. Once launched into space the James Webb Space Telescope will maneuver into position orbiting the second Lagrange point of the Earth-Sol system, L2. This position in the solar system is just one of five locations where the gravitational pull of the Earth is equal to Sol’s. At this remote location a service call by astronauts is definitely out of the question and budget limits of the program. The James Webb Space Telescope simply must work upon arriving on station at L2, without the possibility of servicing by astronauts.
The absolute need for the James Webb Telescope to operate without a hitch upon arriving on station, and the facts learned during the deployment of the Hubble Space Telescope, has convinced the designers and engineers working on the James Webb Space Telescope that a new testing program is needed to ensure every component in the James Webb Telescope works as designed, before being launched into orbit. Over in the gigantic thermal-vacuum test chamber of the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas technicians are currently preparing to begin tests designed to test the entire optical train of the James Webb Space Telescope. They want to ensure the optical system of the telescope operates as a single unit in a vacuum and at the correct operating temperature for optimum performance of the optical systems. In January, engineers started testing six of the primary mirror segments of the James Webb Space Telescope, to ensure everything is as it should be. By the end of 2014 engineers should be nearing completion of the James Webb Space Telescope’s 18 mirror segments, and all flight instrumentation should be tested and ready to go.
These mirror segments are currently undergoing testing by NASA technicians
The James Webb Space Telescope will take mankind on the next leg of the human journey to the beginning of space and time
Once on location at L2, the James Webb Space Telescope will fully deploy its 18 hexagonal, gold-coated mirror segments to form a primary mirror with an effective diameter of 6.6 meters (259 inches). This is a full 6 times the light-collecting area of the Hubble Space Telescope, but the designers and engineers have also added systems driven by software that will analysis the incoming image, and allow astronomers to fine tune the view by controlling the mirrors overall shape.
Out orbiting L2, the James Webb Space Telescope will be far from problematic heat sources, and with a tennis-court sized sunshade shielding the telescope from Sol, the heat-sensitive instrumentation of the telescope will cool passively in the cold darkness of space and time, to the required operating temperature of -388 degrees Fahrenheit (-233 Celsius).
Astronomers believe the first stars created after the Big Bang possessed as much as 100 times Sol’s current mass, shine millions of times brighter than Sol, but only lived a few million years, before exploding in the first supernovae. The James Webb Space Telescope will be capable of allowing mankind to Journey to within about 180 million years after the Big Bang if astronomers are correct, and possibly view the first moments of the universe in space terms. Astronomers will also use the James Webb Space Telescope to view celestial objects that have been exciting the human imagination since they were first discovered in the time of the first-star gazers. Astronomers are currently preparing for the beginning of the era of the James Webb Space Telescope. They’ll soon be proposing all kinds of Journeys to the Beginning of Space and Time that will hopefully provide a few answers to these questions that have been exciting mankind since the first time a human looked upward into the night sky.