It’s last “hard” test is over. Now, we wait for its launch.
Despite numerous delays, funding crises, and technical challenges, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope is almost ready.
Every single component is fully built, assembled, and integrated.
Rigorous pre-launch testing can maximize our chances for Webb’s success.
The stowed telescope must survive harsh launch conditions without sustaining damage.
From its spaceborne environment, all components must then properly deploy.
The primary mirror segments must unfold, aligning to within 20 nanometer tolerance.
All 5 sunshield layers must unfurl without catching, ripping, or tearing.
Earlier testing exposed vulnerabilities that could arise during launch-and-deployment.
Subsequent structural corrections and improvements were then implemented.
On October 6, 2020, NASA and Northrop Grumman successfully completed Webb’s final environmental stress-test.
Over several weeks, Webb underwent rigorous trials, experiencing harsher conditions than actual launches.
It survived high-frequency acoustic pressures, including sounds surpassing 140 decibels.
Sine-vibration testing shook the spacecraft intensely, exceeding vibrational stresses occurring inside a launching rocket.
Unlike prior tests, every single component survived, retaining optimal functioning.
Only sunshield and mirror deployment testing, plus a final systems evaluation, remain as pre-launch milestones.
Webb, stowed onboard an Ariane 5, will launch October 2021 from French Guyana.
With environmental testing now complete, the Universe awaits.
Mostly Mute Monday tells an astronomical story in images, visuals, and no more than 200 words. Talk less; smile more.
Starts With A Bang is written by Ethan Siegel, Ph.D., author of Beyond The Galaxy, and Treknology: The Science of Star Trek from Tricorders to Warp Drive.