Deployment of Webb Space Telescope’s mirror’s successful, but we’re not there yet

January 20, 2022 • 11:00 am

The toughest bit, though seems past: successfully unfolding the entire mirror of the Webb Space Telescope was the most delicate of all its operations, since nothing could fail without endangering the scope’s usefulness. And nothing did! NASA has reported, along with many other sites, that the main mirror deployment is, as they say, “nominal.”  From

JWST’s golden primary mirror includes 18 individual hexagonal segments, each controlled by seven actuators that allow precise movements. All 18 segments are now in their deployed positions several days sooner than scheduled.

Work began on the mirror segments on Jan. 12 and was expected to take about 10 days. But despite today’s announcement, those mirror segments aren’t quite ready to observe yet. First, NASA must conduct the painstaking process of fine-tuning every mirror’s position to turn 18 individual views of the universe into one large ultra-powerful mirror.

The team behind Webb expects that the entire mirror process will take about three months, all told.

Here’s a NASA video of the immensely complicated process of aligning all the mirrors once they’ve unfolded. I have faith in the Telescope Humans that all will be well.


If this works okay, and nothing else goes wrong, in a few months the scope will be in position and ready to send data. There is one more important maneuver:

Webb has one more key deployment milestone to complete, a trajectory burn that will insert the observatory into orbit around a spot in space dubbed the Earth-sun Lagrange point 2, or L2. L2 is located nearly 1 million miles (1.5 million kilometers) away from Earth, on the side of the planet opposite the sun.

According to a NASA timeline, JWST is expected to complete this final arrival maneuver on Sunday (Jan. 23).

A good site to follow is “Where is Webb?” NASA’s real-time timeline of the mission showing the location of the scope and what it’s doing. Below is a screenshot that you can click on to see where Webb is now. It’s approaching “L2 insertion” on the right! Click on the photo to enlarge it.


Live: James Webb telescope unfolding NOW

January 8, 2022 • 9:00 am

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!

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.

Wake up! Space telescope to be launched today at 7:20 Eastern time.

December 25, 2021 • 5:00 am

MERRY CHRISTMAS!  Here’s a present to the world from science—international science.

I know people are up in Europe, and if you’re an early riser in America, you’ll want to see this too (the Kiwis and Aussies will be asleep unless they’re night owls). The James Webb Space Telescope will be launched today, on Christmas Day, at 7:20 Eastern U.S. time, or 6:20 Chicago time. I’m already up at 4:30 to do my ablutions and have coffee before the big takeoff. The good news is that many Americans will be forced to be awake by early-rising kids who want to open their presents.

When this is posted it will be 6 a.m. Eastern U.S. time: 1 hour and 20 minutes to go! And the NASA feed below will have begun.

You know what’s happening: the space telescope, far more powerful than the Hubble, will provide oodles of scientific information, including detecting infrared light from billions of years ago. You can read about it at Wikipedia, or at the NASA site

Here’s the NASA live feed:

Fingers crossed!

A feed from the NASA site that does have commentary (click on screenshot to go to NASA t.v.):

And another live feed:

I believe all conditions are go (things are “nominal”, as they say), and only weather or one other thing could mess up the launch (xkcd cartoon courtesy of Matthew):

James Webb Space Telescope

December 20, 2021 • 11:30 am

On Wednesday, as the 13-minute “60 Minutes” segment below explains, the $10-billion-dollar James Webb Space Telescope will be launched.  Thirty days later, it will be nearly a million miles from Earth, in orbit around the Sun.

One of its goals is to detect leftover radiation traveling over billions of light years, giving us a glimpse of the past and, perhaps, into what “dark matter” is.  But, as you’ll see, it can also answer many other questions.

If you want to read more than you’ve absorbed from this segment, go to either the Wikipedia page or on the telescope’s NASA site.

I’m continuslly stunned by what humans can do with simple materials extracted from the Earth. And it’s great that this effort involves international cooperation.

h/t: Nicole

Space X launch tonight

November 10, 2021 • 9:30 am

My friend Jim Batterson, a astronaut and space buff, sent me the following message, which I reproduce with his permission:

Just a heads up that there will be a SpaceX launch of four astronauts Wednesday night scheduled for 9:03 pm Eastern time. It is called Crew3 as it is the third crewed launch by SpaceX.  The launch window is instantaneous, which means it must go on time or wait until Thursday or Friday again with instantaneous launch time because things must be carefully timed to allow for the crew to catch and rendezvous with the ISS.

It has been interesting over the past few weeks as weather and then an astronaut medical issue delayed the launch and then a decision was made to bring back four astronauts this past week in the Dragon capsule that we saw go up last spring and has been docked on station since.  That was the “diaper” kerfuffle.

Coverage should start on the SpaceX website and Nasa TV about four hours before the 9pm est launch.

Jim recommends watching at the SpaceX site here, and pressing the “watch” window at the bottom.

Alternatively, you could watch it on the NASA site, and there are others as well. If you’re game, set your clocks for about 8:30 p.m. Eastern time tonight.

Mainstream media accused of censoring William Shatner’s post-spaceflight comments

October 15, 2021 • 9:15 am

It appears that William Shatner made a pointed remark about global warming after his successful 11-minute trip to space in the Blue Origin capsule, but, as reader Plunky says, “This perspective wasn’t widely reported in MSM” [mainstream media].  Shatner’s musings on life and death, and his emotional reaction to the trip, however, was reported all over the place.

Indeed, if you search for “William Shatner global warming” on the Internet, you find precious little save at yahoo! entertainment and MEDIAite, and nothing about the omitted sentence that this piece gives. (Of course, I must have missed some stuff.) Plunky called my attention to the piece below from Informed Comment (click on screenshot) noting the omission.  They impute it to Bezos cutting off Shatner because of possible bad publicity for his mission.

From Cole’s reporting:

Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – On Wednesday, pop culture icon William Shatner, Star Trek‘s Captain James Tiberius Kirk, explained the enormity of seeing the earth from a suborbital flight on Blue Origin’s New Shepherd space craft. Part of what he said when he returned from 66 miles up got lost in all of the news reports I’ve seen, and it is the most important part.

Here’s a portion of what CNBC printed in what they alleged was the complete transcript of Shatner’s remarks:

    • “I mean, the little things, the weightlessness, and to see the blue color whip by and now you’re staring into blackness. That’s the thing. This covering of blue is this sheet, this blanket, this comforter of blue around that we have around us. We think ‘oh, that’s blue sky’ and suddenly you shoot through it all of a sudden, like you whip a sheet off you when you’re asleep, and you’re looking into blackness – into black ugliness. And you look down, there’s the blue down there, and the black up there, and there is Mother Earth and comfort and – is there death? Is that the way death is?”

But here’s the crucial takeaway, the last phrase of which is omitted by CNBC:

      • “What I would love to do is communicate as much as possible the jeopardy, the moment you see how vuln– the vulnerability of everything. It so small. This air which is keeping us alive is thinner than your skin. It’s a sliver. It’s immeasurably small when you think in terms of the universe. It’s negligible, this air. Mars doesn’t have it. It’s so thin. And to dirty it…”

In fact, Shatner adds, after “to dirty it”, “I mean that’s another whole subject.” So it wasn’t just the four words that were omitted, but an entire sentence. And then Bezos breaks in. I have to say that he looks like a bit of a jerk, especially when he interrupts Shatner to spray champagne all over the place.

Informed Comment continues:

“The jeopardy . . . And to dirty it!” To fill this precious atmosphere, unique in our solar system, with clouds of burned coal dust and with greenhouse gases, Shatner says, is . . . what? Despicable. Unthinkable.

Just when Shatner is getting on to the subject about how what he saw reinforced his horror at the way we are polluting the atmosphere and imperiling the earth with man-made global heating, Bezos interrupts him: “It goes so fast.” Bezos doesn’t want Captain Kirk expounding on the evils of climate change on his promotional clip. He gets him talking about the experience again. Not the conclusion he drew from that experience.

And yes, Shatner did say that and yes, Bezos interrupted him. You can see it at 7:13 in this video, as well as the “I mean, that’s another whole subject” comment.

Even the New York Times reports only these words of Shatner’s:

It was unbelievable … To see the blue cover go whoop by. And now you’re staring into blackness. That’s the thing. The covering of blue, this sheet, this blanket, this comforter of blue that we have around us. We say, ‘Oh that’s blue sky.’ And then suddenly you shoot through it and all of a sudden, like you whip the sheet off you when you’re asleep, you’re looking into blackness.

. . . You look down, there’s the blue down there, and the black up there. There is Mother and Earth and comfort and there is … Is there death? I don’t know. Was that death? Is that the way death is? Whoop and it’s gone. Jesus. It was so moving to me.

You’ll be hard pressed to find that whole paragraph beginning “What I would love to do is communicate as much as possible the jeopardy. . . ” in the mainstream media, ad I  haven’t found “And to dirty it. . . ” anywhere, not even The New Yorker’s report.   The Informed Comment piece observes that Shatner has been deeply concerned with climate change for at least five years.

I suppose are a couple of explanations for their omission. The innocuous one is that the MSM just omitted one phrase from Shatner’s soliloquy—a fragment that wasn’t even a complete sentence (but was followed by a complete sentence, also omitted!). After all, the “MSM” largely leans Left, and reports frequently on climate change, so what motivation would they have for omitting that bit?

On the other hand, that phrase was important, and should have been part of the story, even though in some accounts (not the NYT’s above), they do say Shatner’s worried about humans despoiling our planet.

Informed Comment appears to be a progressive Leftist site, so they of course impute this to Bezos trying to keep Shatner from damaging the Blue Horizon enterprise, which of course is a for-profit operation. Cole quotes the Washington Post‘s 2016 interview with Shatner to show his concern, and winds up this way:

“People like yourself — young people like yourself should be screaming at the top of your lungs to the people who lead.”

That’s what Shatner wanted to say on his return to earth. He wanted to say that our thin, fragile, vulnerable, unique atmosphere is in danger from petroleum, gas and coal, that this mothering “blue blanket” of the earth is in danger of being enveloped by the grim blackness of galactic emptiness because of the way we are treating it.

That is what for-profit news did not report about Shatner’s profound experience and his articulation of it. He wants you screaming at the top of your lungs that our pale blue dot is in danger of being burned up and engulfed by an unfeeling, black cosmos. And that only we can stop it from getting worse, because we are the ones making it worse.

Well, maybe Cole is wrong trying to psychologize Shatner in this way. After all, Shatner did say “that’s another whole subject”, and may have left it there. But surely the media could have reported that final phrase, particularly in what was purported to be a complete transcript.

You be the judge!


Watch the SpaceX launch: 4 “civilian” astronauts to orbit Earth for 3 days

September 15, 2021 • 6:13 pm

The window for tonight’s SpaceX Inspiration4 launch begins at 8:02 p.m. Eastern U.S. time, and the window will be open for five hours. Be sure to tune in to the live feed below, or one of the others listed, to see four “civilian” astronauts, who trained for six months, to go into orbit for three days.

We’re about an hour from the first open launch time, so click below and watch the takeoff. The probability of a launch this evening is given at about 90%, so things look copacetic.

Read more about the launch and the truly diverse set of astronauts (one with an artificial femur) here.

Bezos’s “Blue Origin” flies into space today: 9 a.m. Eastern U.S. time

July 20, 2021 • 7:20 am
UPDATE: Everything went perfectly during the 10+ minute flight; the booster made a bullseye back to the landing pad, and all the astronauts are fine and excited.
Reader Bat sent this note, which I reproduce in its entirety.  Be sure to watch the launch, set for 9 a.m. Eastern Time, or 8 a.m. Chicago time. (I believe that’s 2 p.m. Greenwich time, though one site said 1 p.m.  Greenwich time. If you’re a Brit, do check.) Bat’s words:

Just a reminder that Jeff Bezos’s “Blue Origin” space launch, designed to reach just beyond the 100km altitude that marks the “edge of space” (62 miles), is planned for this morning.  Liftoff is scheduled for 0900 Eastern U.S. time (0800 Chicago time at the west Texas launch site), with live coverage beginning at 0730 Eastern Time (0630 Chicago time) at the link below.

There will be four people on board: Jeff Bezos, his younger brother, an 82-year-old famous female aviator (Wally Funk), and an 18 year old paying passenger selected in an earlier lottery.

The entire mission will take about 8-10 minutes and is a standard one-stage booster rocket with crew capsule that separates from booster when the booster engines cut out a couple of minutes into the flight. The capsule continues on in a parabolic trajectory to just above the 100km high Karman altitude, giving 4-5 minutes of weightlessness to the crew.  Both vehicles continue trajectories back to Earth with the booster landing upright for re-use and the capsule hitting down on the desert floor close-by under parachutes.  All is done autonomously; there is no pilot.

Be aware that times may change. Bat adds this:

But we have to remember that these are scheduled times for a very complicated process.  Even scheduled airliners run late on occasion. So there is every possibility of a hold in the count or a scrubbed mission. In their April launch which carried out the full mission but sans crew, there were several holds in the countdown.  They do have an escape system for the capsule in case of a booster failure.

Update:  Anne-Marie sent a cartoon that appeared in La Presse, a French-Canadian newspaper this morning. (Serge Chapleau is a famous artist/cartoonist.) Yes, the booster and capsule does look like that. Translation: “Jeff Bezos presenting his souvenir poster of his first space trip.”

Guest post: SpaceX launch early Friday (5:49 a.m. Eastern time)

April 22, 2021 • 5:00 pm

Jim Batterson, one of my old friends from college, wrote me about Friday’s SpaceX launch, and his thoughts were so interesting that I asked if he would turn them into a short post. He kindly obliged.

The launch is scheduled for early tomorrow (5:49 a.m. Eastern time, 4:49 a.m. Chicago time), so I’m posting this on Thursday evening to alert you. If you’re a real space aficionado in the U.S., you’ll want to set an alarm.

I asked Jim for his creds to show, and this is what he said:

“Flight control engineer at NASA Langley Research Center from 1978 to retirement in 2008”.  I spent several of those years as head of the Dynamics & Control Branch.  This is like a university department chair. We did control theory research and design and flight test for a range of aircraft including general aviation aircraft, fighter prototypes, shuttle, next generation launch vehicles, the first micro-air vehicles, and large space structures.  My own research was in an area known as “system identification from flight data”.

And so to his post, which I’ve indented:

Just a heads up that there is a planned SpaceX launch of four astronauts headed to the International Space Station scheduled for 0549 EDT Friday morning (0449 Chicago time).  This is an instantaneous launch window, which means that if it doesn’t launch at this time, the entire launch will be postponed. NASA live TV coverage will start about four hours before the planned liftoff and is available at the official NASA site or at the YouTube site below:

This launch uses a refurbished crew capsule and a booster rocket from previous SpaceX flights.  While the capsule and four-person crew will continue on to the station for a Saturday morning docking, the booster rocket will execute a planned controlled descent back to Earth and land on a barge at sea for further reuse. My former NASA colleagues and I were always nervous about and attentive to each shuttle flight over the years.  I remain nervous about these flights, although the current capsule configuration at the top of the rocket provides an escape mode in case of booster failure—something the shuttle system didn’t offer.

Human spaceflight is inherently dangerous: putting enough explosive potential energy to escape Earth’s gravity into the small volume of a rocket. The shuttle system was particularly scary because the crewed vehicle was strapped alongside the fuel tanks with no escape in case of an explosion. The capsule was thus susceptible to impacts from material that might be shed from the external fuel tank or solid-rocket boosters.  This design flaw has been corrected with the SpaceX redesign back to a capsule that sits atop the rocket, ahead of the fuel and other components of the launch vehicle—like the earlier Mercury and Apollo capsules.  But the escape system still requires a lot of things to happen quickly and correctly.  Some of the engineers in my former organization were involved in developing the escape system control laws, and these systems have been tested in situ.

So why does NASA continue to carry out human spaceflight?  There are two prongs of space flight and exploration at NASA: robotic and human.  The vast majority of pure science is already being in robotic missions, such as the current Mars mission or the recent New Horizons mission to Pluto and beyond.  These science missions are supported through ~$7B annually in NASA programs dedicated to planetary science, Earth science, helioscience, and astrophysics.  They involve numerous universities, and projects can generally span a decade or more in planning, development, and execution, with data analysis by scientists around the world continuing for another decade.

The second prong, human spaceflight and operations—a separate ~$10B annual budget item—focuses on learning about humans in space in low Earth orbit and on international cooperation.  We learn how humans adapt and operate in the weightlessness of space over extended time periods—periods that would be required to fly to another planet.  The international crews carry out science experiments, do station and system upkeep and development, and generally learn to live in the always challenging cold vacuum of space.

Human spaceflight is both a science and an engineering project as NASA learns what is needed to keep astronauts both physically and mentally healthy, and then designs, builds, and tests the required infrastructure.  Flying in space is heroic, and I have huge respect for the astronauts who train, strap themselves into the vehicles, and endure months on the space station.  But it does risk lives both on launch and re-entry.  I hope that all of our policy-makers recognize that.

A number of critical cultural policy and management issues were identified in the Rogers Commission investigation into the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger accident and written about specifically by Commission member and Physics Nobel Prize laureate Richard Feynman in a separate appendix to the Commission report.  Feynman’s Appendix F  deserves a read by anyone interested in an engineering or political career. While some changes and redesigns of launch vehicles were instituted, I did not see any real change in NASA’s safety culture as a result of either the Challenger or Columbia accidents and subsequent investigations.