Update: NASA Plans Coverage of Webb Space Telescope Deployments

Thousands of parts must work correctly, in sequence, to unfold NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope into its final configuration, all while it flies to a destination nearly 1 million miles away. Credits: NASA/Chris Gunn

Editor’s Note: This advisory was updated Dec. 30 to reflect the addition of a media teleconference after Webb’s sunshield is fully deployed, no earlier than Sunday, Jan. 2.

Over about the next two weeks, NASA will provide broadcast coverage, media briefings, and other updates on major deployment milestones for the James Webb Space Telescope, the world’s largest and most powerful space science telescope.

Broadcasts of milestone events will air live on NASA TV, the NASA app, and the agency’s website.

Webb, an international partnership with the ESA (European Space Agency) and the Canadian Space Agency, launched Dec. 25 from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. The observatory had been folded up, origami style, to fit inside an Arianespace Ariane 5 rocket for launch. Webb is now in the complex and intricate process of unfolding in space, as it travels nearly 1 million miles to its destination, the second Lagrange point or L2.

Webb’s deployment sequence is a human-controlled process that provides the team with the flexibility to pause, assess data, and adjust as needed. The timing and order of all milestones may therefore change. NASA will host live broadcast coverage to mark the following milestones, with specific times and dates updated as they approach:

  • Sunshield tensioning: The full deployment of the sunshield, the most challenging element for Webb, will mark a critical milestone for the mission. This step is scheduled for completion about eight days after launch, no earlier than Sunday, Jan. 2.
  • Secondary mirror support structure deployment: The support structure that holds the secondary mirror in position to focus light collected by the primary mirror is set for deployment about 10 days after launch, no earlier than Tuesday, Jan. 4.
  • Webb deployments complete: With the unfolding of the second of Webb’s primary mirror wings, the Webb team will have completed all observatory deployments. This is scheduled to take place about 13 days after launch, no earlier than Friday, Jan. 7.

NASA provides regular updates on the Webb telescope blog. The public can also follow Webb’s deployments online via a “Where is Webb?” interactive tracker and a Deployments Explorer.

NASA Press Briefings

NASA will hold the following media briefings after major deployment milestones:

  • A media teleconference as soon as possible after the end of the live broadcast coverage of Webb’s sunshield tensioning, no earlier than Sunday, Jan. 2. To participate by telephone, media must RSVP no later than noon EST Sunday, Jan. 2, to Laura Betz at: laura.e.betz@nasa.gov.
  • A media briefing as soon as possible after the end of the live broadcast coverage of Webb’s final deployments, no earlier than Friday, Jan. 7.

The agency will determine the timing of these briefings as the deployment milestones approach and will stream the events live on its website.

NASA’s media accreditation policy for virtual activities is available online.

Social Media Engagement

Members of the public can stay connected with the mission and let people know about Webb’s deployments on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram with #UnfoldTheUniverse. Follow and tag these accounts:

Additional Webb Resources:

The Webb mission will explore every phase of cosmic history – from within the solar system to the most distant observable galaxies in the early universe, and everything in between. Webb will reveal new and unexpected discoveries and help humanity understand the origins of the universe and our place in it.

For more information about the Webb mission, visit:

https://webb.nasa.gov

-end-

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bonbon
December 31, 2021 4:12 am

Considering how many times Hubble was repaired in orbit, will it be possible to repair Webb at L2 if necessary?

Joseph Zorzin
Reply to  bonbon
December 31, 2021 5:07 am

not possible- it’s out a million miles, though perhaps we can ask some aliens to service it :-}

BARRY HOFFMAN
Reply to  bonbon
December 31, 2021 5:41 am

It may be possible to refuel it in the future as a physical connection provision has been made for that possibility.

beng135
Reply to  BARRY HOFFMAN
December 31, 2021 8:08 am

There was a mention of sending a small robot ship out to refuel it before it runs out of fuel in about 10 yrs.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  beng135
December 31, 2021 9:58 am

We really do need an orbital transfer vehicle. We will get one eventually.

BernardP
Reply to  Tom Abbott
January 1, 2022 7:39 am

If NASA was to ask Elon Musk, he would probably be interested.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  BernardP
January 2, 2022 6:01 am

I think NASA has an orbital vehicle project, but like everything with a bureaucracy, it has been delayed time after time.

NASA should turn this project over to one of the private space companies, and Musk would probably be the best choice at this time.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  BARRY HOFFMAN
December 31, 2021 9:56 am

Here’s one private company that is building a vehicle to refuel other spacecraft in orbit:

https://spaceexplored.com/2021/09/30/orbit-fab-has-plans-to-fuel-up-satellites-in-space-launching-on-a-future-spacex-moon-mission/

And Elon Musk is working on being able to transfer propellants between two of his Starship Heavy-lift vehicles, the idea being that he has a Starship in orbit with an empty propellant tank, that he wants to send to the Moon, so Musk launches more Starships into orbit and uses their excess propellant to refuel the empty Starship in orbit.

https://futurism.com/the-byte/nasa-pay-spacex-orbital-starship-refueling-test

Reply to  Tom Abbott
December 31, 2021 5:11 pm

There is more than one orbit.

Happy New Year anyway.

Last edited 9 months ago by Curious George
Editor
Reply to  bonbon
December 31, 2021 6:39 am

Essentially no. L2 is 4X further away than moon, and just getting L2 will take Webb a month. We could get there a lot sooner, but would have to use retro rockets to slow down.

BTW, Webb has a finite lifetime – it has fuel for staying in orbit around L2, and also liquid helium for additional cooling.

Even Hubble is harder to reach than before – after the last service mission it was boosted into a higher orbit since the space shuttle program was ending and the US could no longer launch people into low Earth orbit – we got to the space station by hitching a ride with the Russians.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  Ric Werme
December 31, 2021 10:01 am

“BTW, Webb has a finite lifetime – it has fuel for staying in orbit around L2”

The initial estimate was Webb had enough propellant to stationkeep at L2 for about five years.

Since the launch, they have recalculated, and due to the launch going very well, which allowed them to use less propellant, the Webb now has an estimated 10 years worth of propellants on board.

Joseph Walker
Reply to  Ric Werme
December 31, 2021 1:17 pm

I hope that massive asteroid, which will pass earth at about 1.000.000 miles away, doesn’t hit JWST.

Gordon A. Dressler
Reply to  Joseph Walker
January 2, 2022 10:16 am

There is a lot to be said about the “vastness” of space . . . and the relative size of objects therein.

mcswell
Reply to  Ric Werme
January 1, 2022 8:22 am

Are you sure about Hubble being in a higher orbit? It was boosted slightly in the first servicing mission, but I can’t find anything about it having been boosted higher since then. In any case, its orbit is not currently so high that it would be difficult to reach; the problems with servicing it now are not the altitude, but rather the lack of manned capsules with the necessary airlocks for EVA, as I understand it.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  mcswell
January 2, 2022 6:04 am

“the problems with servicing it now are not the altitude, but rather the lack of manned capsules with the necessary airlocks for EVA, as I understand it.”

That’s right.

If Musk can reach the Moon, then he can reach Hubble.

Gordon A. Dressler
Reply to  Ric Werme
January 2, 2022 10:45 am

Ric Werme posted:
“BTW, Webb has a finite lifetime – it has fuel for staying in orbit around L2, and also liquid helium for additional cooling.”

The monopropellant hydrazine is the only on-board fluid that is expendable. The on-board helium is used in a closed-loop refrigeration system (a “cryocooler”) to support just one of JWST’s four major science instruments.

By very efficiently blocking visible-IR radiation from the Sun and Earth via its deployable sunshade, JWST’s instruments can be passively cooled down to equilibrium temperatures in the range of 40-50 K via thermal radiation to the 3 K background of deep space.

However, one very sensitive instrument for imaging IR objects, the mid-infrared imager (MIRI), needs to be cooled even further to its design operating temperature of ~7 K. Helium at reasonable pressures becomes liquid at about 4 K, and so by attaching an electrically-powered liquid helium refrigerator to the MIRI instrument, Webb scientists can cool MIRI down to its needed operating temperature. The gaseous/liquid helium cryocooler is designed to not need re-charging over the design life of the JWST mission.

Last edited 9 months ago by Gordon A. Dressler
Redge
Reply to  Joe
December 31, 2021 6:05 am

There are words, but if I utter them I’ll probably be banned for life 😉

Joseph Zorzin
Reply to  Joe
December 31, 2021 6:53 am

I see on that site the following:

“This is a scientific consensus. There’s about as much scientific consensus about human-caused climate change as there is about gravity.” – Michael Mann

what a moron, how did he manage to get a PhD?

Gordon A. Dressler
Reply to  Joseph Zorzin
December 31, 2021 8:56 am

Poor Michael Mann.

According to current scientific observations and scientific consensus, dark matter makes up about 27% of the universe and dark energy makes up an additional 68%.

Scientist today simply do not understand the basis/composition of either dark matter or dark energy.

Since energy, as photons, exhibits the same properties as matter in terms of reacting to/creating gravity (more properly, to following spacetime deformation geodesics created by massive objects)—as Einstein predicted and as famously confirmed in 1919 by Sir Arthur Eddington’s photography of starlight during a solar eclipse— the obvious conclusion is that science today cannot explain the source of 95% of gravity that exists in the universe.

So, Mr. Mann, you were alluding to the scientific consensus about gravity, as if it had relevance to credibility?

Apparently, Michael Mann never read (or if he did read it, never understood) the following passage from the Bible:
“Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools” — Bible, Romans 1:22, King James Version (KJV)

Joseph Zorzin
Reply to  Gordon A. Dressler
December 31, 2021 9:36 am

I think the dark matter and energy is wonderful- something for future generations to struggle with- and once they make sense of it- it’ll offer new powers- like the way that the understanding of the electromagnetic spectrum has done. Once we understand this stuff- we’ll see that it’s extremely complex. I keep talking in this blog about UAPs and aliens. I suggest they figured out the dark stuff eons ago. And more- much more- so no reason to pester us- just buzz around occasionally and see what we’re up to. They don’t need anything we have. Earth is just a zoo to visit and laugh at.

Joao Martins
Reply to  Joseph Zorzin
December 31, 2021 12:29 pm

Yes, but for that you will need a lot ( I mean, A LOT) of gray matter.

mcswell
Reply to  Joao Martins
January 1, 2022 8:23 am

Yeah, and mine keeps leaking out into my hair.

upcountrywater
Reply to  Joe
December 31, 2021 11:34 am

Only by DATA destruction, can the AGW cultists keep the co2 dream going…
More Disappearing Arctic DataEarlier this month, DMI showed Arctic ice volume above the 2004-2013 average. I tweeted about this and copied BBC News, CNN, NPR and the New York Times.
Now, just as Arctic sea ice extent was about to become the highest for the date in the past 17 years, the extent data has disappeared as well. This is what the OSI Arctic and Antarctic sea ice data looked like three days ago.

comment image
https://realclimatescience.com/2021/12/more-disappearing-arctic-data/

Jack
December 31, 2021 7:21 am

Let’s congratulate the European Space Agency for the accuracy of the WST launching from the Kourou french space pad. The frenchies were a bit stunned being asked to perform such a delicate task, since the NASA currently doesn’t own a proper launcher for this mission.

Gordon A. Dressler
Reply to  Jack
December 31, 2021 9:18 am

I agree with congratulating ESA for the trouble-free, successful launch of JWST, a payload estimated to be worth about $10 billion USD that was developed over some 20 years or so.

However, NASA does not “own” any large payload launch vehicle in the context of your post. NASA always buys expendable launchers from commercial suppliers as needed/desired for their own specific missions. In the US, either ULA or SpaceX could have provided the same lift capability as that of the French/ESA Ariane 5 launch vehicle.

NASA accepted the Ariane 5 launcher due to: (a) its demonstrated high reliability, and (b) ESA’s offer to contribute the launch vehicle to this wonderful scientific mission “for all mankind”.

History shows there was no “stunning” involved in the selection of launch vehicle for JWST.

Rocketscientist
Reply to  Gordon A. Dressler
December 31, 2021 2:57 pm

Gordon, as an retired employee of one of those suppliers, I agree with you completely.
The general public seems to forget the last A in NASA stands for administration. They buy the rockets and have somebody paint their name on it.

BTW I am watching very closely the progress of JWST as I was on the team that assembled and tested the beastie. (I am in one of those bunny suits in the photographs) I have a few days more of fretting whether my assemblies will work as planed.

Gordon A. Dressler
Reply to  Rocketscientist
December 31, 2021 3:57 pm

Glad to make your acquaintance. I am semi-retired from NGC, worked dating back to the days of former TRW ATD. I worked directly supporting JWST’s on-board hydrazine propulsion system.

So, like you I’ll be watching very closely (more correctly “be on pins and needles”) until the SC is placed safely into final orbit around L2 with all deployments successfully completed.

And, man-o-man, am I anticipating that first image!

sadbutmadlad
December 31, 2021 10:40 am

“NASA Plans Coverage of Webb Space Telescope Deployments” So does that mean a live video feed from the telescope? 🙂

Gordon A. Dressler
Reply to  sadbutmadlad
December 31, 2021 10:56 am

No. There are no video cameras aboard JWST.

Rocketscientist
Reply to  sadbutmadlad
December 31, 2021 2:58 pm

Just posted updates on deployment feedbacks.

Harry Passfield
December 31, 2021 12:12 pm

I really can’t see the excitement of being able to see (model) what ‘life’ was like billions of years ago. So what? But if they could see the future….(then again….). That said, what a wonderful piece of engineering.

Joseph Walker
December 31, 2021 1:15 pm

Thanks Much for this article.
Unfortunately, the NASA Agency Website blog mentioned in the 3rd paragraph has not updated since 21Dec2021.

So I have been using the “Where is Webb?” page.
https://webb.nasa.gov/content/webbLaunch/whereIsWebb.html

Where is Webb also shows animation of each day’s deployment.

Yooper
Reply to  Joseph Walker
December 31, 2021 2:52 pm

I just checked the link you posted above, and JWST is exactly halfway to L2!

Yooper
Reply to  Yooper
December 31, 2021 3:20 pm

Wait a minute! If JWST is halfway to L2 in SIX DAYS how can they say it’ll take a month to get there? What am I missing?

Gordon A. Dressler
Reply to  Yooper
December 31, 2021 4:02 pm

The on-going gravitational deceleration of the spacecraft, mainly as it is getting further away from Earth.

JWST is coasting toward the L2 point, not being actively propelled there.

Last edited 9 months ago by Gordon A. Dressler
Yooper
Reply to  Gordon A. Dressler
December 31, 2021 5:01 pm

OK. That means that the plan is to get the JWST to L2 with no forward velocity, right? The gravitational deceleration is supposed to get it there at a dead stop, so it can just ‘float” around its L2 point.

Gordon A. Dressler
Reply to  Yooper
January 1, 2022 7:37 am

Yooper,

Well, that’s essentially correct, except for the point about “no forward velocity”. The spacecraft has an on-board monopropellant (hydrazine) propulsions system that can provide for mid-course corrections, if necessary, and for velocity management to establish JWST’s final design orbit around the L2 point, which itself orbits the Sun at a fixed position relative to Earth.

That propulsion system will also be used to “off-load” excessive buildup of momentum, when necessary, in a configuration of spinning “reaction” wheels that will be used to perform telescope pointing to different astronomical objects, and to also react spacecraft torque caused by solar photons/particles impacting the spacecraft. However, a clever scheduling of observing different objects in sequence is done to minimize the need to perform momentum unloads (and thus minimize consumption of the limited amount of on-board hydrazine).

Rusty
December 31, 2021 5:20 pm

This project is simply staggering. My first job, way back in January 1996, was working in a lab for Matra Marconi Space (which subsequently became Astrium and then Airbus Defence and Space).

The industry was changing hugely even then. Time between concept and flight was usually 5 years plus for commercial satellites and the company was well on the way to getting that down to 18 months.

Technology was changing so fast that by the time satellites were being launched, the kit on board had been surpassed twice and more in terms of capability and bandwidth, let alone non-space capable hardware.

I was lucky enough to visit my old workplace in 2005 and the whole philosophy and system had changed completely. I can’t imagine what it must be like now.

To think the James Webb telescope was conceived that far back and how far we’ve come is just mind-boggling.

I engraved my signature* on a square waveguide which was part of Astra 2B. That satellite is now defunct and parked in a “grave yard orbit”, but I smile to myself knowing that bit of ‘graffiti’ is going to last for longer than me and many of my descendants!

*Not official, some of us did so before the part went through “dent-tuning”.

Last edited 9 months ago by Rusty
Jackie Pratt
December 31, 2021 7:42 pm

Why don’t they track it with Hubble and live stream that……

Gordon A. Dressler
Reply to  Jackie Pratt
January 1, 2022 7:40 am

Hubble is booked solid for more important things than TV/streaming entertainment.

Captain climate
January 1, 2022 2:03 am

Webb has incredible promise but I’m so cynical as this project started in 1996 and had massive F-ups along the way. I have a feeling the thing won’t unfold properly. I’ll be very pleasantly surprised if they get it working let alone for 10 years.

Gordon A. Dressler
Reply to  Captain climate
January 1, 2022 8:14 am

You should have more faith.

A previous NASA “Great Observatory”, the Chandra X-ray space telescope, which was built by TRW (now part of Northrop Grumman Corporation that was prime contractor for JWST) was launched in 1996 with a planned operational life of five years.

Now, after more than 25 years in space, it is still going strong . . . still performing 100% of its science observational capabilities, to the best of my knowledge.

For sure, the JWST program had massive cost overruns and schedule delays, both not totally unexpected for a program incorporating never-before-attempted technology.

I hope you are pleasantly surprised.

Reply to  Captain climate
January 2, 2022 4:52 am

Nothing difficult is ever easy. If it was so easy then everyone might do it. Placard on the dash of a SIMCA race car.

January 1, 2022 7:14 am

I have enjoyed understanding the Where Is Webb live numbers and watching it slow, coasting up the gravity well with juust enough energy to top the rise and slide down into the L2 gravity ‘puddle’.

Last edited 9 months ago by Doug Huffman
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