James Webb’s “Lifespan” May Have Been Doubled With A Perfect Launch

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This week, NASA said it would take less fuel than expected for the James Webb Space Telescope to reach Lagrange Point L2. This is good news for research, since the observatory should thus be able to carry out a 10-year mission instead of the five initially planned.

The James Webb Telescope (JWST) was launched this Saturday, December 25. A nice gift for scientists and researchers who have been waiting for this departure for several decades. And as the New Year approaches, more good news has thrilled experts. The mission – initially scheduled for a minimum of five years – could last ten, NASA said this week.

Several reasons explain this novelty. Ariane 5 launch accuracy has exceeded all requirements to get JWST on track, experts say. Thus, the two course corrections made since required little fuel.

Several maneuvers will be necessary to get James Webb to his destination: the Lagrange L2 point of the Sun-Earth system. © NASA

The first correction took place 12.5 hours after launch and lasted 65 minutes. If this duration may seem substantial, three hours could have been necessary for the operation to be successful. This first combustion put the observatory on an even more precise trajectory and added about 20 meters per second to its initial speed. ” The earlier this operation is performed, the less fuel it requires. This is the reason why we chose this schedule to run it Randy Kimble, scientist for the JWST Test, Integration and Commissioning Project for NASA, said on the NASA blog. The second corrective maneuver took place on December 27 and lasted only 9 minutes and 27 seconds, adding 2.8 meters per second to the telescope.

A hostile environment

Once launched, it is impossible to refuel the JWST. The fuel at his disposal is one of the keys to the duration of his mission. Thanks to the precision that the researchers have demonstrated since its launch, the latter could therefore be extended by five years, or ten in total.

When subjected to a harsh environment, the components and tools of the space telescope can also degrade, which could affect the success of the mission. This is why the temperature on board the observatory is closely monitored. Again, the accuracy of the launch played a critical role in the deployment of the sunshade. The operation began about a minute and a half after separation from the second stage of Ariane 5, or 29 minutes after launch.

The sun visor plays a crucial role in the success of the JWST mission. The telescope’s equipment is subjected to a harsh environment and could not perform its function without it. On December 28, the front and rear paddles were unfolded and the deployable tower was extended. An operation that lasted six hours, but which can now allow the sun visor to open in order to keep the observatory at very low temperatures (when fully deployed), an essential element for the success of the mission.

-233 ° C at coldest, 85 ° C at hottest

Indeed, the JWST will have “two main temperatures” once in orbit around the L2. The sun visor will always face the sun to block both heat and light, as the observatory’s mirrors must constantly remain extremely cold in order to be able to pick up weak infrared radiation in the universe. On the cold side, temperatures will be around – 233 ° C and on the hot side, 85 ° C.

The release of the sun visor covers, the extension of the middle arms and the tensioning of the five layers of Kapton of the protection tool are expected to occur in the next few days. According to NASA, this space deployment is one of the most difficult that its teams have ever attempted.