On March 16, NASA announced that one of the most critical steps in the commissioning process had been completed — the alignment of all 18 individual mirrors on James Webb’s primary mirror.
Meanwhile, as optics teams were working on aligning the mirror, instrument teams began bringing instruments online as James Webb’s temperature continues to decrease to expected operating levels.
“We have fully aligned and focused the telescope on a star, and the performance is beating specifications. We are excited about what this means for science. We now know we have built the right telescope,” said Ritva Keski-Kuha, James Webb’s deputy optical telescope element manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.
James Webb’s massive 6.5-meter primary mirror is the largest mirror to have ever flown in space, and as such makes it one of the most complex — if not the most complex — to have ever flown. Since launch in late December, optics teams have been working around the clock to not only align the primary mirror, but also other optics systems aboard the observatory.
Due to the immense size of James Webb’s mirror, it could not be flown into space fully deployed. In order to fit inside the fairing of an Ariane 5 rocket, the mirror had to be folded inwards on the port and starboard side of the observatory, creating “wings.” Once in space and en route to L2, James Webb teams successfully unfolded these “wings,” bringing the iconic primary mirror to its final form.
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