NASA’s new space telescope has had its first breakthrough as the agency today confirmed it would remain functional a lot longer than predicted.
NASA launched the James Webb Space Telescope on Christmas Day to complete a mission with a minimum timeline of five years.
But the telescope’s ‘science lifetime’ is now expected to last more than 10 years of operations due to the success of its launch.
Solar panels provide part of the power needed for the scientific work onboard the telescope. Other more traditional energy supplies like rocket fuel are also required to help the telescope orient itself in space.
A NASA spokesperson said the agency completed such an accurate launch that the craft will contain excess propellant even after reaching its eventual destination – a point in space called ‘L2’.
The subsequent accuracy of its manoeuvres and course adjustments to position it in the right place also left the Webb with extra fuel. This fuel can now be used for manoeuvres NASA refers to as part of its ‘station keeping’ mechanism, which also ensure the craft maintains the correct position while on its mission.
The NASA spokesperson also said the solar array – the telescope’s solar panel structure – deployed ahead of schedule.
The agency had programmed the telescope to open the array upon reaching a specific angle in relation to the sun. This occurred four minutes earlier than expected due, again, to the accuracy of the launch.
The telescope will now deploy a special set of mirrors to allow it to look into deep space before it achieves the position of its ultimate orbital position about a month from now.
The craft’s final deployments are manual, not automatic like the solar array and mirrors. This means the specific timings and order of deployments may change as the telescope continues along its course.
NASA workers will continue to work hard to calibrate the machine’s instruments even once it’s reached its target position and deployed its tools.
The Webb will then study phenomena like the formation of planets and the age of the universe, according to PV Magazine.
If you have a story you want to tell, send it to UNILAD via [email protected]