Image credit: NASA
Last week, NASA announced a new launch date for the James Webb Space Telescope (sometimes called JWST or Webb). This orbiting infrared observatory was designed with longer wavelength coverage and improved sensitivity in order to complement and extend the discoveries of the Hubble Space Telescope (which is now 30 years old!).
Described as the "premiere observatory of the next decade," Webb's launch will occur from French Guiana on October 31, 2021. It will "study every phase in the history of our Universe," NASA's website says, "ranging from the first luminous glows after the Big Bang, to the formation of solar systems capable of supporting life on planets like Earth, to the evolution of our own Solar System."
Webb is an international collaboration between NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). The NASA Goddard Space Flight Center is managing the development effort. The main industrial partner is Northrop Grumman; the Space Telescope Science Institute will operate Webb after launch.
I found this information (also directly from NASA's website) interesting as well: Several innovative technologies have been developed for Webb. These include a primary mirror made of 18 separate segments that unfold and adjust to shape after launch. The mirrors are made of ultra-lightweight beryllium. Webb’s biggest feature is a tennis court sized five-layer sunshield that attenuates heat from the Sun more than a million times. The telescope’s four instruments - cameras and spectrometers - have detectors that are able to record extremely faint signals. One instrument (NIRSpec) has programmable microshutters, which enable observation up to 100 objects simultaneously. Webb also has a cryocooler for cooling the mid-infrared detectors of another instrument (MIRI) to a very cold 7 K so they can work.
At this point, the telescope's launch date has been pushed so many times that it's one of those "I'll believe it when I see it" instances. Still, if the launch does go off as planned, it'll be a pretty unique way to celebrate Halloween.
Do you follow NASA launches and new technology innovations? What are some of your favorites?