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NASA announce breakthrough for alien-hunting telescope
December 31, 2021
The James Webb Space Telescope was launched last week by NASA along with help from the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.
The launch was completed smoothly leaving the telescope to begin the lengthy process of setting up so that it can begin its important work.
It is believed to have cost around £7.9 billion and is regarded as the successor to the Hubble Telescope, taking over as NASA's flagship mission in astrophysics. The new model is set to provide clearer space images, helping us explore far away galaxies and alien life.
The telescope gets its name from the administrator of NASA from 1961 to 1968, James E. Webb.
The investigations of the telescope will be broad, looking to improve humanity's understanding of astronomy and cosmology.
What breakthrough has the James Webb Space Telescope made?
The launch of the telescope was monumentally successful, which has meant that the project has more fuel to burn than originally expected.
This means the operation can last for longer.
NASA said the telescope would have enough fuel to: "Allow support of science operations for significantly more than a 10-year science lifetime”
The minimum timeline for the mission had been set at five years.
The research part of the project gets its energy for research from solar power – the solar panel array for which is believed to have been properly deployed already and ahead of schedule.
The telescope as a whole, however, will use traditional propellant methods to position itself in space correctly to conduct its research.
The telescope aims to get to a position being called L2, which is where it is planned to conduct its research from. However, it is thought to not only have enough rocket propellant to get to this point but also to conduct all of the telescope's requirements for an extended period of time.
These include "station keeping" burns that will keep it the right way up and in the correct position in orbit to conduct its work.
The extra propellant has been saved due to the accuracy of the Ariane 5 launch, which took the telescope into space on Christmas day.
Subsequent correction manoeuvres have also been so accurate that overall fuel has been saved and more is now left in its tanks than was expected.
The solar array was meant to deploy either after the correct angle with the sun was found or after 33 minutes from launch. In a huge moment of success, the array was deployed after 29 minutes after launch.
The next stage is to deploy other parts of the telescope, including mirrors that will help researchers gaze deep into space. It is hoped this stage will be reached a month after the launch.
Once this has been completed the following deployment stages will be human-controlled and so the timing of these steps could vary.
Once everything is deployed correctly months of alignments and calibrations will be needed to ensure the telescope is set up perfectly.
When this stage is reached the James Webb will set about helping humanity learn more and more about the cosmos and expand our knowledge of the great beyond.