NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope is slated to become the most powerful space telescope ever built, but it’s not quite space-worthy just yet.
The heart of the space observatory arrived safely at Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems in Redondo Beach, California last week, and despite undergoing a slew of extensive tests in Houston, Texas already, NASA says there are more tests to complete before it’s ready for launch in 2019.
Image Credit: NASA/Chris Gunn
“Extensive and rigorous testing prior to launch has proven effective in ensuring that NASA’s missions achieve their goals in space,” noted Eric Smith, the program director for the James Webb Space Telescope at NASA.
“Webb is far along into its testing phase and has seen great success with the telescope and science instruments, which will deliver the spectacular results we anticipate,” he continued.
In its current form, the James Webb Space Telescope isn’t yet fully assembled. The heart of the spacecraft still needs to be mounted to the spacecraft chassis, which includes the multi-layered sunshield that will protect the sensitive instruments from the intensely-bright Sun. Fortunately, everything else is already at the Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems facility.
After engineers put everything together, the completed space telescope will undergo additional scrupulous testing to ensure that everything deploys as we’d expect it to in space. This involves testing the origami-like folding features of the telescope’s primary mirror and sunshield, all of which must be packed into a cramped rocket’s cargo hold for space delivery.
Given just how important of a project the James Webb Space Telescope is for the future of space exploration, it’s not too surprising that NASA’s taking its time to ensure that everything goes according to plan. After all, it’d be easier to repair a malfunction from Earth’s surface than it would be once the observatory is floating around in space.
“At NASA, we do the seemingly impossible every day, and it's our job to do the hardest things humankind can think of for space exploration,” Smith added.
“The way we achieve success is to test, test and retest, so we understand the complex systems and verify they will work.”
NASA will continue updating the public as final assembly and testing commence, so it shouldn’t be too long before we hear the next update concerning the space telescope’s progress.