James Webb Space Telescope deploys secondary mirrors, honeycomb primary mirror to be installed next

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The James Webb Space Telescope has now completed another complex process one day after the sun visor was fully cocked. The space observatory’s secondary mirror was deployed with what one Webb engineer called “the world’s most advanced tripod”. The 2.4 foot wide mirror sits on the tips of three carbon fiber tubes that protrude from the large main mirror. Each of the fiber tubes is 25 feet long and constructed to withstand adverse effects in the space environment. The joints and motors used for this seamless deployment were heated with special heating systems, NASA said. Later this week, the telescope will deploy its iconic gold honeycomb mirror.

Once unfolded, the secondary mirror is the second surface that light from distant stars hits on its way to the telescope. When light hits the 18 gold primary mirrors of the James Webb Space Telescope, it is reflected and hits the smaller secondary mirror, which redirects the light into the telescope. All of this work on James Webb required meticulous planning and incredible foresight. Engineers continue to monitor the progress of the nearly month-long process and take every precaution to successfully operate the world’s most powerful telescope.

The deployment process began on Wednesday (January 5) at 8:22 p.m. IST and the secondary mirror was in position later that day at 9:58 p.m. IST, NASA said. On the same day at 10:53 p.m. IST, engineers confirmed that the secondary mirror structure was fully extended. “Another great day for JWST,” said Bill Ochs, James Webb project manager. “That’s amazing … we’re about 600,000 miles from Earth, and we actually have a telescope.”

Lee Feinberg, James Webb’s manager of telescopic optical elements, said, “The most advanced tripod in the world has been used.” Feinberg explained that the secondary mirror must unfold in zero gravity and in extremely cold temperatures.

Now it has to stay calm while the telescope points to different places in the sky. The James Webb Space Telescope is set to replace the aging Hubble telescope. As a joint project by NASA, ESA and the Canadian Space Agency, James Webb is to provide new insights into the first stars.

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