NASA’s largest-ever space telescope James Webb Space Telescope has completed its final phase of the 100-day vacuum testing at -266ºC. The tests included an alignment check of Webb’s 18 primary mirrors, to make sure the gold-plated, hexagonal segments act like a single mirror. The $8.8 billion telescope took 20 years to build.The cryogenic test phase was a significant step towards the launch and operation of the telescope, which is considered to be a replacement for the Hubble Space Telescope. Bill Ochs, project manager said that the instrument will bear the name of James Webb, a champion of the early space program, who saw further ahead than many other people at the time.“Many believe that James E. Webb … did more for science than perhaps any other government official, and that it is only fitting that the Next Generation Space Telescope would be named after him,” says a NASA biography of Webb, who ran the space agency from 1961 to 1968.“The Harris team integrated Webb’s 18 mirror segments at Goddard and designed, built, and helped operate the advanced ground support and optical test equipment at Johnson,” said Rob Mitrevski, vice president and general manager of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance at Harris. “They were a key, enabling part of the successful Webb telescope testing team.”The James Webb Space Telescope is expected to answer many pending questions for astronomers, including why Pluto has a colder atmosphere than predicted, look for potential signs of life in the seven rocky exoplanets in orbit around an ultra cool dwarf star in the TRAPPIST-1 system, and identify pairs of runaway stars.
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