Janna informs us that today is the BIG DAY: The Webb Space Telescope is unfolding its mirrors, which will take some time. Watch the action live below, though of course there is no camera on the scope. But the left side of the NASA video shows a real-time animation of what’s happening.
So far, so good!
— Janna Levin (@JannaLevin) January 7, 2022
No earlier than 9 a.m. – Live coverage of the unfolding of the second of the James Webb Space Telescope’s primary mirror wings, marking the end of the observatory deployments.
No earlier than 1:30 p.m. – NASA will hold a media briefing as soon as possible after the end of the live broadcast coverage of Webb’s final deployments.
10:40 p.m. – Coverage of the launch of a sounding rocket carrying an X-ray astronomy instrument from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.
Unfolding the forward UPS included dozens of individual steps, NASA officials wrote. The successful maneuver marks the first step in the five-day-long process of preparing the sunshield, which will protect Webb’s sensitive instruments from the sun’s radiation.
“While the actual motion to lower the forward pallet from its stowed to its deployed position took only 20 minutes, and the lowering of the aft pallet took only 18 minutes, the overall process took several hours for each because of the dozens of additional steps required,” NASA officials said in a statement. “These include closely monitoring structural temperatures, maneuvering the observatory with respect to the sun to provide optimal temperatures, turning on heaters to warm key components, activating release mechanisms, configuring electronics and software, and ultimately latching the pallets into place.”
The sunshield deployment process will likely finish around Jan. 3, although each stage of the deployment sequence is controlled from the ground and the timeline can be adjusted as NASA and its partners see fit.
After unfolding the two UPS structures, Webb’s next key steps will be to unfold the Deployable Tower Assembly, release the sunshield cover and begin unfurling the sunshield itself.
If all goes according to plan, the observatory will be in its final configuration and orbit within one month of launch. The spacecraft will orbit Earth-sun Lagrange point 2, or L2, a point located nearly about 930,000 miles (1.5 million kilometers) away from Earth on the side opposite to the sun. Like the delicate sunshield, this location is crucial for allowing the instruments to gather infrared observations.