James Webb Space Telescope arrives at Johnson Space Center for cryogenic testing

The giant 18-piece mirror of the James Webb Space Telescope, inside the cleanroom at Johnson Space Center. Photo Credit: NASA/Chris Gunn

Often referred to as the successor for Hubble, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is one of the most highly anticipated space telescopes ever built. A large infrared telescope with a 6.5-metre primary mirror, JWST will be able to look at every phase of the Universe, from the period just after the Big Bang to the formation of stars, galaxies, exoplanets and even our own Solar System. Scheduled for launch in fall 2018, JWST recently arrived at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, where it will undergo its last, and crucial, cryogenic test.

The telescope made a few stops along the way, first being taken from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland by trailer truck, then being driven very slowly (as always with such loads) to Joint Base Andrews in Maryland. There, the entire assemblage, including the tractor-trailer, was loaded onto a U.S. Air Force C-5C aircraft and flown to Ellington Field in Houston, Texas. After landing at Ellington, the telescope was transported by truck to Johnson Space Center, where the telescope was finally removed from its protective shipping container inside the cleanroom.

The upcoming cryogenic test will run for nearly 100 days. These tests are designed to ensure the telescope can function properly in the extreme cold of space, 1 million miles from Earth. The tests are carried out in a vacuum; the largest and final test will be conducted in Johnson’s Chamber A, the same vacuum chamber where the Apollo spacecraft were tested. This test will help engineers ensure that the entire telescope operates properly.

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