Webb Telescope Arrives at Final Orbit Destination at L2 and Starts Primary Mirror Alignment

Webb Telescope Arrives at Final Orbit Destination at L2 and Starts Primary Mirror Alignment
Artists concept of James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). It achieved orbit at final destination at L2 on 24 Jan. 2022. The James Webb Space Telescope is the next great space science observatory following Hubble, designed to answer outstanding questions about the Universe and to make breakthrough discoveries in all fields of astronomy. Webb will see farther into our origins: from the formation of stars and planets, to the birth of the first galaxies in the early Universe. Webb is an international partnership between NASA, ESA and CSA. Credit: NASA/ESA/CSA

For SpaceUpClose.com & RocketSTEM

CAPE CANAVERAL, FL – Culminating an arduous two decade long development and million mile journey since launching on Christmas Day, the massive international James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) finally arrived at its final orbital destination at the L2 Lagrange Point on 24 Jan. 2022, sliding gently into its new home a million miles from earth – after a minor course correction thruster firing.

Having achieved that long awaited and much prized success the Webb team is now focused on focusing and aligning the 18 segmented and 21-foot (6.5 m) wide gold-coated primary mirror at the heart of the $10 Billion observatory which is an international collaboration of NASA, ESA and CSA.

“At 2 p.m. EST, [Jan 24, 2022] Webb fired its onboard thrusters for nearly five minutes (297 seconds) to complete the final postlaunch course correction to Webb’s trajectory. This mid-course correction burn inserted Webb toward its final orbit around the second Sun-Earth Lagrange point, or L2, nearly 1 million miles away from the Earth,” NASA officials announced, to cheers in the control room during a live webcast.

This final mid-course burn added only about 3.6 miles per hour (1.6 meters per second) – a mere walking pace – to Webb’s speed, which was all that was needed to send it to its preferred “halo” orbit around the L2 point.

“Webb, welcome home!” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, in a statement.

“Congratulations to the team for all of their hard work ensuring Webb’s safe arrival at L2 today. We’re one step closer to uncovering the mysteries of the universe. And I can’t wait to see Webb’s first new views of the universe this summer!”

Webb trajectory diagram shows a conceptual view of Webb’s trajectory and halo orbit. Webb launched on the sun-facing side of the earth and travelled a slightly curved trajectory for the ~1,609,344 km to enter its L2 halo orbit on 24 Jan. 2022. A halo orbit is one which rather than follow a single path, is an orbit that periodically varies through a series of paths. The ‘Earth/L2 frame’ orbits the Sun while Webb orbits L2 as shown in this animation of Webb’s orbit. Also note Webb’s orientation; the sunshield is perpendicular to the Sun so Webb’s mirrors and instruments are in cold complete darkness. Credit: NASA/ESA/CSA

Achieving the halo orbit at L2 follows completion of all major spacecraft deployments on Jan. 8 from its origami-like folded up state upon launch aboard the Ariane V rocket to prepare for groundbreaking science operations which will unveil the Universe’s first light.

Webb’s orbit will allow it a wide view of the cosmos at any given moment, as well as the opportunity for its telescope optics and scientific instruments to get cold enough to function and perform optimal science, says the Webb team.

Webb journey to L2. Webb will orbit the second Lagrange point (L2), 1.5 million kilometres (1 million miles) from Earth in the direction away from the Sun. There, its sunshield can always block light and heat from both the Sun and Earth from reaching its telescope and instruments. L2 is not a fixed point, but follows Earth around the Sun. Credit: ESA

Webb has used as little propellant as possible for course corrections while it travels out to the realm of L2, to leave as much remaining propellant as possible for Webb’s ordinary operations over its lifetime: station-keeping (small adjustments to keep Webb in its desired orbit) and momentum unloading (to counteract the effects of solar radiation pressure on the huge sunshield).

“During the past month, JWST has achieved amazing success and is a tribute to all the folks who spent many years and even decades to ensure mission success,” said Bill Ochs, Webb project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, in a statement.

“We are now on the verge of aligning the mirrors, instrument activation and commissioning, and the start of wondrous and astonishing discoveries.”

NASA James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) deployment graphic. Credit: NASA

Webb is a robotic mission and will function as a cosmic time machine peering back to nearly the beginning of time to see first light and explore the formation of the first stars and galaxies in our Universe in infrared light.

It had been an intense period of deployments since the Christmas morning launch

Webb has about another 4 months of setup and spacecraft and instrument commissioning still to come.

James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) primary mirror unfolded in space on Jan. 8, 2022 – and now appears similar to this prelaunch photo on Earth except for the folded secondary mirror. Here the 18-segment 21 ft (6.5 m) wide gold coated primary mirror of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope is raised into vertical alignment in the clean room at the agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, on Nov. 2, 2016. The secondary mirror mount booms are folded down into stowed for launch configuration. JWST launched on Dec. 25, 2021 on an Arianespace Ariane 5 rocket.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/spaceupclose.com

The next step is engineers commanded the 18 primary mirror segments to be move forward a few millimeters and release them from launch lock configuration so they can then be aligned to setup the telescope optics.

The ground team is commanding 126 actuators on the backsides of each of the 18 segments to flex each primary mirror hexagon – an alignment that will take several months to complete.

Webb orbital animation at L2 Lagrange point

They will also calibration each of the four state-of-the-art science instruments. After that, Webb will deliver its first images from each of the four instruments.

Before the science instruments can be commissioned that also need to be completed cooled to their operating temperature which will take about 4 and a half months, NASA Goddard told Space UpClose


This NASA video details the complex deployment sequence of JWST post launch remotely controlled from Earth:

Video Caption: Engineers on the ground will remotely orchestrate a complex sequence of deployments in the hours and days immediately after the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope. This animation shows the nominal sequence for these deployments. Music Credit: Universal Production Music “Connecting Ideas Instrumental” Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

I observed JWST many times while under construction at NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center in Greenbelt, MD, to observe assembly of the primary and secondary mirrors onto the observatory backbone structure  at various points

The giant school bus sized and nearly 6.8-ton (6.2-metric ton) infrared observatory has huge ambitions – despite being billions over budget and years behind schedule and faced down cancellation from short-sighted budget cutters in Congress.

It seeks to ask and answer the big questions – Who we are? How did we come to be?  by looking back to the birth of the Universe

The $9.8 Billion Webb observatory – intricately folded up like origami inside the nose cone – launched at 7:20 a.m. EST (9:20 a.m. GFT  / 1220 GMT / 13:20 CET). Saturday, Dec. 25, on a 55 m (180 ft) tall Arianespace Ariane 5 rocket from Europe’s jungle Spaceport at the ELA-3 launch complex in Kourou, French Guiana, on the northeastern coast of South America.

Webb is a joint effort between NASA, ESA (European Space Agency) and CSA (Canadian Space Agency).

JWST is the largest, most powerful and most complex space telescope ever built.

It is also the most expensive science instrument ever costing nearly $10 Billion

It will operate in a halo orbit at the L2 Lagrange point approx. 1 million miles (1.6 million km) from Earth after liftoff and about a 1-month journey.

It will serve as the scientific successor to NASA’s world famous and phenomenally successful Hubble Space Telescope (HST).

“The James Webb Space Telescope represents the ambition that NASA and our partners maintain to propel us forward into the future,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson.

“The promise of Webb is not what we know we will discover; it’s what we don’t yet understand or can’t yet fathom about our universe. I can’t wait to see what it uncovers!”

Webb is in many respects a time machine looking back to the formation of the Universe over 13.5 Billion years ago and how we came to be and evolve over the eons.

Watch Ken’s BBC World TV interview about Webb achieving final orbit and the goals ahead

Video Caption: Dr. Ken Kremer of Space UpClose live interview on BBC World News TV on Jan. 24, 2022 ET (Jan. 25 GMT) about NASA James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) just hours after achieving orbit at its final destination, why at L2, what’s ahead with spacecraft checkouts, what are the science goals and when are first pictures expected

Watch this space for my ongoing reports on JWST mission and science.

Watch Ken’s continuing reports about JWST, IXPE, DART, SpaceX Crew and Cargo Dragons, Artemis, SLS, Orion and NASA missions, Lucy Asteroid mission, SpaceX Starlink, Blue Origin and Space Tourism, Commercial Crew and Starliner and Crew Dragon and onsite for live reporting of upcoming and recent SpaceX and ULA launches including Crew 1 & 2 & 3, ISS, Solar Orbiter, Mars 2020 Perseverance and Curiosity rovers, NRO spysats and national security missions and more at the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news: www.kenkremer.com –www.spaceupclose.com – twitter @ken_kremer – email: ken at kenkremer.com

Dr. Kremer is a research scientist and journalist based in the KSC area, active in outreach and interviewed regularly on TV and radio about space topics.
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The secondary mirror and tripod assembly on NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope in the largest clean room at the agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, during installation work. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/spaceupclose.com







Ken Kremer

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite coverage of NASA, SpaceX, ULA, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and more space and mission reports direct from Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Stay tuned here for Ken's continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news. Dr. Kremer is a research scientist and journalist based in the KSC area, active in outreach and interviewed regularly on TV and radio about space topics. Ken’s photos are for sale and he is available for lectures and outreach events.

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