After being tested separately, the two halves of the James Webb Space Telescope have finally come together into a single piece for the first time since the project started. Engineers from Northrop Grumman in Redondo Beach, California, had to lift the section with the mirror and instruments and place it on the half with the sunshield and spacecraft components. This delicate operation was carried out using a crane and allowed the mechanical connection of the contact points on the two sections of the telescope. The next step will be to establish and test the electrical connection between the two halves.
“The assembly of the telescope and its scientific instruments, sunshield and the spacecraft into one observatory represents an incredible achievement by the entire Webb team,” said Bill Ochs, Webb project manager for NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “This milestone symbolises the efforts of thousands of dedicated individuals for over more than 20 years across NASA, the European Space Agency, the Canadian Space Agency, Northrop Grumman, and the rest of our industrial and academic partners.”
The Webb team must now deploy the five layers of the sunshield to ensure that it can maintain the correct shape to protect the mirror and instruments from light from the Sun, the Earth and the Moon.
“This is an exciting time to now see all Webb’s parts finally joined together into a single observatory for the very first time,” said Gregory Robinson, the Webb program director at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. “The engineering team has accomplished a huge step forward and soon we will be able to see incredible new views of our amazing universe.”
The Webb telescope will undergo additional environmental and deployment tests to ensure that it can survive the extreme environment of launch and space. The launch of the telescope is still planned for March 2021.
Webb will be the world’s premier space science observatory. It will solve mysteries in our solar system, look beyond to distant worlds around other stars, and probe the mysterious structures and origins of our universe and our place in it. Webb is an international project led by NASA with its partners, the Canadian Space Agency and the European Space Agency.