Highly anticipated, the James-Webb Space Telescope is considered by some to be Hubble’s successor. The telescope has recently successfully completed the preliminary tests, the last important milestones before its final launch.
The James-Webb telescope passed a few days ago successfully the cryogenic vacuum tests which lasted more than 100 days, thus consolidating the capabilities and potential of the instrument. At a press conference held on January 10 by NASA, Johnson Space Center officials in Houston discussed such successful tests in the “largest space freezer in the world,” as described by Mark Voyton.
These experiments were carried out in the center’s vacuum chamber A, which was used in the preparation for the famous Apollo space mission. It is a thermal vacuum test facility that “has allowed the team to successfully test the instrument and its parts at the extreme temperatures found in space”.
These tests also confirmed that all the mirrors and other instruments of the telescope were perfectly aligned, the 18 segments of the primary mirror all functioning as a single monolithic mirror.
Before going to its launch site, the instrument will soon be transported to an observatory for environmental testing. It is after these final experiments that its commissioning should take place, normally at the beginning of 2019.
The capacity of the telescope – 100 times more powerful than Hubble – will by far surpass all that has been created before it.
This gigantic telescope, described as “the best time machine in the world,” has already demonstrated its capabilities in detecting the light of a simulated star for the first time. The Precision Guidance Subsystem not only managed to generate the position of the light, but also to follow its movement.
Being an infrared instrument – unlike Hubble and its visual light – the James-Webb telescope requires an extremely cold environment, such as that felt in the vacuum chamber. Once in orbit, it can then observe the light of the first moments of the Universe. It will also give us a clear view of the exoplanets and their atmosphere, probably revealing earth-like worlds that could keep the promise of supporting an extraterrestrial life.