Named after astronomer Edwin Hubble, one of the greatest projects undertaken by NASA was the Hubble Space Telescope. Though not the first of its kind, the space telescope remains to be one of the most successful satellites ever. It has served as an important research tool, capturing impressive pictures of the cosmos. Despite being such a vital project, the Hubble is scheduled to be replaced soon.
Dubbed as the successor to the Hubble, the James Webb Space Telescope is a part of the Flagship Program of NASA. Set to be launched next year, the JWST will help researchers around the world explore newer depths of space. The new telescope, a joint program by NASA, ESA and CSA, will operate from the Earth–Sun L2 Lagrangian point (approximately 1,500,000 km beyond Earth’s orbit).Technology used in the JWST will be far more superior to the Hubble.
The idea of a much more powerful replacement for the Hubble originated in 1996. It was called the Next Generation Space Telescope. There was much interest from space agencies around the world to create a cheaper and yet much more efficient telescope that would help with space research. The NGST (Now James Webb Space Telescope) was based on the Hi-Z telescope concept which used 4 meter aperture infrared lens to capture pictures of the farthest parts of the universe. Despite having so many hurdles and nearly facing cancellation, the JWST is near completion.
Instruments On-Board the JWST
The JWST will feature four different scientific instruments housed within an Integrated Scientific Instrument Module(ISIM), to help capture pictures from deep outer space. The instrument cluster consists of a Near InfraRed Camera (NIRCam), a Near InfraRed Spectograph (NIRSpec), a Mid InfraRed Instrument (MIRI) and a First Guidance Sensor and Near InfraRed Imager and Slitless Spectrograph(FGS/NIRISS).
The JWST also contains an Optical Telescope Instrument which will be used to make the observations. The JWST has a massive sun shield which will be used to reflect the sun’s rays and maintain the instruments at operating temperatures. The sun shield is about 22 meters in length and is designed to fold twelve times. It consists of 18 gold coated hexagons made from lightweight beryllium. If the operating temperatures get too hot, the heat may interfere with the infrared instruments.
The infrared technology will help capture clear pictures of the universe as it is better at penetrating obscuring dust and gas, allowing dim cooler objects to be observed. This infrared imaging is hard to do from the Earth due to the atmosphere of the Earth.
The primary goal of the JWST will be to search the cosmos to find galaxies and stars that were formed just after the Big Bang. The telescope will also be used to study the formation of various stars and galaxies and to hopefully find the origin of life. The telescope will be in commission for five years and will be used to get rare pictures of the Universe.
The James Webb Space telescope will be about seven times more powerful than the Hubble. It will be able to resolve a golf ball 40 kilometers away. Adding to the impressive telescopic power, the JWST will be twice the size of its predecessor and will weigh about 6 tonnes. The telescope will carry enough fuel to keep it in orbit for at least a decade.
The telescope will be put into orbit on an Ariane 5 rocket which will be manufactured in Europe. Scheduled to be launched in 2019, the JWST will help researchers and astronomers unravel secrets of the universe. The time has come for mankind to take yet another giant leap to understanding the universe.