NASA has successfully installed the first of 18 flight mirrors onto the James Webb Space Telescope, commencing the construction of a critical piece of the observatory, set to replace the Hubble Space Telescope in 2018.
The engineering team at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Centre in Greenbelt, Maryland deployed a robot arm to lift and slower the hexagonal segment measuring only 1.3 meters across and weighing approximately 40 kilogrammes.
After they are pieced together, the 18 primary mirror segments would work together as one large 6.5-metre mirror. The full installation would be completed early next year.
"The James Webb Space Telescope will be the premier astronomical observatory of the next decade," said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA, PTI reported.
"This first-mirror installation milestone symbolises all the new and specialised technology that was developed to enable the observatory to study the first stars and galaxies, examine the formation stellar systems and planetary formation, provide answers to the evolution of our own solar system, and make the next big steps in the search for life beyond Earth on exoplanets," said Grunsfeld.
The first mirror installation was completed this week just ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday. The robotic arm precisely lifted and lowered the gold coated mirror into place on the mirror holding backplane assembly.
Each of the 18 hexagonal-shaped primary mirror segments measures a little over 4.2 feet (1.3 meters) across and weighs 88 pounds (40 kilograms). When deployed in space each individual mirror will unfold into several sections and work together as one large mirror, unprecedented both in size and light gathering capability.
''This fall we will start installing every mirror,'' said Sandra Irish, JWST lead structural engineer during a recent interview with Universe Today at the NASA Goddard clean room facility.
The completion of the installation of the entire mirror onto the backplane assembly would take several months up to early 2016. The flight structure coupled with the backplane assembly serve as the backbone of the $8.6 billion Webb Telescope, www.universetoday.com reported.
''Then next April 2016 we will install the ISIM science module inside the backplane structure,'' Irish elaborated.
''The ISIM mounts all four of the telescope's science instruments. So the mirrors go on first, then the ISIM gets installed and then it will really be the telescope structure.''
''After a tremendous amount of work by an incredibly dedicated team across the country, it is very exciting to start the primary mirror segment installation process'' said Lee Feinberg, James Webb Space Telescope optical telescope element manager at Goddard, in a statement.