With the James Webb Space Telescope in orbit, NASA is preparing to tackle the most challenging task: deploying the sunshields. During the launch, engineers have removed and rolled up the sunshield covers that shielded the telescope’s tiny layers.
“With the successful extension of Webb’s second sunshield mid-boom, the observatory has passed another critical deployment milestone. Webb’s sunshield now resembles its full, kite-shaped form in space,” said NASA in a statement.
The mid-booms drew the sunshield’s folded membranes with them as they pushed out horizontally from the spacecraft, each propelled by a motor. This extended the sunshield to its full 47-foot width across the observatory.
“The mid-booms are the sunshield’s workhorse and do the heavy lifting to unfold and pull the membranes into that now-iconic shape,” said Keith Parrish, Webb observatory manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.
The operations team moved forward with caution, and according to the protocols they drew out for coping with unanticipated scenarios; thus, the deployments took longer than intended.
“Today is an example of why we continue to say that we don’t think our deployment schedule might change, but that we expect it to change,” Parrish said.
“The team did what we had rehearsed for this kind of situation – stop, assess, and move forward methodically with a plan. We still have a long way to go with this whole deployment process.”
The two mid-boom arms are now securely attached. The membranes will be held in place as the team moves on to the last stage of the sunshield’s deployment, tensioning.
This suggests that the JWST will separate each of its five sunshield layers in the upcoming weeks. The following step of deployment will last about two days. Will it be as successful as the previous phases? All one can do is wait!