NASA's James Webb Space Telescope is late for its own party, and it's not just a little late. NASA originally planned to have the ship ready to roll in early 2007, but a long list of setbacks (and stupid human errors by manufacturer Northrop Grumman) have delayed the project more than a decade and about 20 times its original cost.
With the amount of money invested in a project, you can bet that NASA is eager to see some signs of serious progress, especially with the tentative 2021 launch window approaching quickly. The good news is that half of the telescope has just completed a round of testing at its manufacturing facilities, surpbading a vacuum chamber designed to put it in conditions it would experience in space.
The telescope is being built in two parts. One half contains the telescope, as well as several scientific instruments, and the other half is the platform of the spacecraft that allows it to move and maintain its orbit. Half of the spacecraft is the part that has just completed the vacuum chamber test, which compares it to temperatures that range from 235 degrees Fahrenheit to 215 degrees Fahrenheit.
"The Northrop Grumman and NASA Goddard Space Flight Center teams should be commended for a successful thermal vacuum test of spacecraft, spending long hours getting to where we are now," Jeanne Davis, program manager James Webb, said in a statement. "This incredible achievement paves the way for the next important milestone, which is to integrate the telescope and the elements of the spacecraft."
The news takes a long time to arrive, but it's definitely a big step in the James Webb program. Of course, ensuring that all components work as planned once they reach space is crucial, but there are still many obstacles to climb before the telescope is ready to go skyward. The integration of all components takes time, and new problems could arise at any time. Hopefully, the dates of 2021 and NASA are not forced to delay it once more.
Image source: NASA