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NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope Preparing for First Observations

© NASA GSFC/CIL/Adriana Manrique GutierrezArtist rendering of the James Webb Space Telescope.
Artist rendering of the James Webb Space Telescope.  - Sputnik International, 1920, 31.01.2022
NASA’s $10 billion James Webb space telescope is entering its final preparations before becoming operational. The telescope arrived at its final location several days ago, after leaving Earth on December 25. It has turned on many of its instruments, and has successfully experienced 50 major deployments.
The James Webb space telescope has arrived at its final Earth-sun Lagrange Point destination. The region is some 930,000 miles from Earth and was selected by astrophysicists and NASA for being a gravitationally stable spot that allows for fuel conservation and, most importantly, is incredibly cold.
The James Webb telescope is designed to operate at 45 Kelvin or the equivalent to -375 Fahrenheit and -228 Celsius. The telescope has a sunshield to remain cool, which was successfully deployed earlier this month.
On Friday, Jonathan Gardner, James Webb deputy senior project scientist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, told those at a town hall event, "There were 50 major deployments; they have all been successful."
According to Gardner, "The sunshield reflects the sunlight directly at the Earth, and [sometimes] has a glint and at other times, it's more diffuse light."
The newly-deployed sunshield will make the Webb telescope visible from earth, even for amateur astronomers.
Mike McElwain, Webb observatory project scientist, said, "We'll be aligning the telescope; that's about a three month process that we're planning to begin early next week."
Calibrating the telescope will take time as its performance will vary as it continues to cool down. The next step in commissioning the Webb telescope is for the science instruments to become operational.
Jane Rigby, Webb operations project scientist, said it will be a "two-month intense period where we check out the science instruments and get them ready for science operations."
The difficulty in getting the Webb telescope’s science instruments is largely down to trial and error according to Rigby.
"Each observing mode has specific quantitative criteria for science readiness that say, 'Okay, this looks ready to go,'" she said. "It doesn't mean it is perfect, [but] it means that this looks like it is ready to start science operations."
Cycle 1 is expected to begin around June 25 if everything remains on schedule and the first images from the Webb telescope will be released around that time. All commissioning data will be made public.
The Webb telescope has enough fuel to be operational for an estimated 20 years, although that could change depending on a multitude of factors. Scientific proposals for Cycle 2 are due by January 2023.
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