James Webb Space Telescope Reaches Major Milestone

by Shelby Scott

NASA launched its latest spacecraft, the James Webb Space Telescope, on Christmas Day. Since then, Outsiders have been able to track the telescope’s progress via the agency’s website. Now, the James Webb just reached another major milestone in its million-mile journey. And following a successful launch, it gives professionals and amateur astronomers alike one more thing to look forward to this new year.

The James Webb Space Telescope debuted as the world’s largest and most powerful telescope built to date. As such, it has quite a process to endure before reaching its final destination within our sun’s orbit. Following its initial deployment, the first, in a host of steps, calls for the unfurling of the spacecraft’s sunshield.

According to Fox News, the sunshield completed unfurling on Friday, just before we rang in 2022. Further, despite the large telescope’s intricacies, the outlet reports it took less than four hours for the sunshield to completely expand.

As to the process of the James Webb Telescope’s unfurling, NASA, accompanied by both the Canadian Space Agency and the European Space Agency, intended for the large piece of equipment to expand via “non-explosive actuators.”

Essentially, the James Webb boasts 178 of the non-explosive pieces which act as membrane release devices. Of the 178, 107 were released, allowing for the expansion of the telescope’s sunshield. The intricate pieces were previously necessary for keeping the spacecraft folded and stable prior to the start of its journey.

James Webb Space Telescope Far From Mission-Ready

As Outsiders who’ve been following NASA’s latest endeavor know, James Webb’s journey is far from over. The sunshield reached full expansion late Friday night. However, mission operators paused further processes on Saturday to ensure all parts of the telescope’s journey are completed correctly.

According to the news outlet, further progress in James Webb’s journey will continue Sunday. Following the sunshield’s unfurling, operators plan to tension each of its five layers, resulting in James Webb’s final form.

The five layers reportedly help to distribute heat outwards from the center of the telescope. This best helps in maintaining the integrity of the spacecraft. While the unfurling was surely a process in itself, the agency predicts tensioning of the five layers will take at least another two days.

That said, Kieth Parrish, James Webb’s observatory manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, emphasized the precision and length of the mission that takes place before the telescope’s actual mission.

“Today is an example of why we continue to say that we don’t think our deployment schedule might change, but that we expect it to change.” Of the unfurling process, Parrish continued, “The team did what we rehearsed for this kind of situation – stop, assess, and move forward methodically with a plan. We still have a long way to go with this deployment process.”