Meanwhile, Chinese satellite was in near miss with debris from Russia’s failed test rocket launch.
The last time we checked on the James Webb Space Telescope, the instrument slated to take the place of the Hubble Telescope, it had deployed its complex array of solar panels after having launched on Christmas day.
It has now arrived at its final destination, after traveling nearly one million miles from Earth.
The telescope arrived at a location beyond the moon after a final, roughly five-minute firing of the spacecraft’s main thruster, sweeping itself into a small pocket of stability where the gravitational forces of the sun and Earth commingle. From this outpost, called the second Lagrange Point or L2, the Webb telescope will be dragged around the sun alongside Earth for years to keep a steady eye on outer space without spending much fuel to maintain its position.
“We’re one step closer to uncovering the mysteries of the universe,” Bill Nelson, the administrator of NASA, said in a statement. “And I can’t wait to see Webb’s first new views of the universe this summer!”
The James Webb Space Telescope, named after a former NASA administrator who oversaw the formative years of the Apollo program, is seven times more sensitive than the nearly 32-year-old Hubble Space Telescope and three times its size. A follow-up to Hubble, the Webb is designed to see further into the past than its celebrated predecessor in order to study the first stars and galaxies that twinkled alive in the dawn of time, 13.7 billion years ago.
The telescope’s final destination is referred to as Lagrange Point 2 (L2). Lagrangian points are locations in space where gravitational forces and the orbital motion of a body balance each other. This position essentially allows the spacecraft to ‘hover’ in space. L2 is the second such point away from earth and is located about 1 million miles directly ‘behind’ the Earth as viewed from the Sun.
At this point, the instrument will begin a series of activities geared to allow it to begin scientific research.
Once orbiting L2, Webb will begin cooling down and turning on its four scientific instruments. It will take weeks still for this cooling to be completed and for Webb to reach a stable temperature. Following this cooldown, Webb will spend about five months perfectly aligning and calibrating its optics and scientific instruments.
Webb will spend its lifetime at L2 . It was previously thought that the observatory might operate for just 5 to 10 years in space because of its limited propellant supply and the fact that it was not intended to be refueled. However, after launch, the mission team now expects that Webb will have “significantly more than a 10-year science lifetime,” thanks to the job the Ariane 5 did on launch day, NASA officials wrote in a post-launch statement.
Meanwhile, a Chinese satellite just experienced a near-miss with a piece of debris created by Russia’s destructive anti-satellite test conducted in November.
The Space Debris Monitoring and Application Center of the China National Space Administration (CNSA) issued a warning Tuesday of an extremely dangerous encounter between the Tsinghua Science satellite (NORAD ID: 46026) and one (49863) of more than a thousand trackable pieces of debris from the Nov. 15 ASAT test.
The warning was shared by official Chinese language industry media China Space News and reported by Chinese media. The close encounter event is backed up data from U.S. space tracking.
The notice stated that the closest approach was to a distance of 14.5 meters, but there is likely much more uncertainty regarding the distances involved,satellite tracker Jonathan McDowell, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, told SpaceNews via email.
“While publicly available U.S. tracking data confirm that debris object 49863 did pass very close to the Tsinghua Science Satellite on January 18, the claim that the distance was only 14.5 meters is meaningless since they don’t quote any error bar, or the level of uncertainty,” McDowell stated.
“It is very unlikely China’s tracking can determine this distance to an accuracy of better than 100 meters or more, so “within a few hundred meters” is probably all they can reliably say.”
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