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James Webb Space Telescope to begin crucial deployment step on Tuesday

The James Webb Space Telescope blasted off atop an Ariane 5 rocket in a spectacular Christmas Day launch that marked the start of what promises to be a remarkable mission.

The most powerful space telescope ever built is currently heading toward its destination almost a million miles from Earth from where it’ll peer into deep space in a bid to unlock some of the secrets of the universe.

The $10 billion multiyear mission has been decades in the making and is the work of countless personnel at NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Canadian Space Agency.

To reach its destination orbit — a point known as L2 — the spacecraft has to perform a number of crucial burns over the next 29 days, while the telescope has to unfurl from its compact shape so that it can begin its exploration of space.

If any of these complex procedures go wrong, it could place the entire mission in jeopardy.

The good news is that so far everything has gone to plan. Confirmation of the latest success came on Monday night when Webb completed the second of three burns to keep it on course for L2.

It’s been a busy evening! Not only did we just complete our second burn, but #NASAWebb also passed the altitude of the Moon as it keeps cruising on to the second Lagrange point to #UnfoldTheUniverse. Bye, @NASAMoon! 👋 🌑

— NASA Webb Telescope (@NASAWebb) December 28, 2021

On Sunday, the gimbaled antenna assembly deployed without a hitch, enabling the transmission of huge amounts of data when the telescope starts its work. The solar array is firmly in place, too.

The James Webb Space Telescope has also passed the distance equivalent to that between Earth and the moon — 238,850 miles (384,400 km) — indicating that it’s already about a quarter of the way to its destination orbit.

What’s next?

Next up is the start of the delicate process of unfurling the massive sunshield, described as the size of a tennis court. The first of numerous steps toward this goal will take place on Tuesday, December 28, and involves the deployment of a section of the Unitized Pallet Structure, which supports and carries the sunshield’s five membranes.

The entire sunshield deployment is expected to take about five days, meaning it won’t be finished until the weekend. After that, it’s onto the deployment of the 18-segment golden mirror, the central component of the James Webb Space Telescope.

For anyone interested in seeing the telescope’s current location as it makes its way to L2 over the coming weeks, NASA has a special website for the mission offering all the information you need.

For more on the goals of the James Webb Space Telescope mission and some of the incredible discoveries that it could make, Digital Trends has you covered.

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Trevor Mogg
Contributing Editor
Not so many moons ago, Trevor moved from one tea-loving island nation that drives on the left (Britain) to another (Japan)…
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