The new telescope, which will be launched in October 2018, has the power to stare into the deepest, darkest and oldest reaches of space in the hunt for habitable exoplanets. Using specially designed mirrors which will absorb ancient infrared light, the JWST will allow mankind to look back in time and discover new worlds.
America’s new telescope dwarfs NASA’s ageing Hubble Space Telescope in almost every department and could finally provide the human race with the answer to the single most important question ever asked… “Is anyone out there?”
Hubble’s replacement was drawn up way back in 1995, only 5 years after Hubble launched. Back then scientists could only work on theoretical assumptions as to how a new telescope would look and function as the technology which helped build the JWST in the last few years didn’t exist.
Whereas the Hubble floated around space at an easily (in relative terms) commutable 340 miles above Earth, the JWST will operate at around 930,000 miles from our planet, roughly 4 time further away from the Earth than the moon! This means that after launch, and the foreseeable future, humans won’t be able to physically repair the Telescope – it will have to do that itself.
Because of JWST’s distance from Earth and its closer proximity to the Sun, the JWST will operate at two simultaneous temperatures. On one side of the sunshield temperatures will rocket to a roasting 85°C (185 °F) and on the other side it will be operating at a baltic -233°C (-388 °F) so that the infrared mirrors can operate properly.
The JWST is over twice the size of the Hubble Space Telescope. At 3 stories high and measuring at around 22 metres in length it is the largest telescope ever to be sent into space. With the 18-segmented mirror housed in the middle of the craft which itself measures 6.5 meters in length, it is 3 times the size of Hubble’s mirror – big enough to spot a football 340 miles away!
The JWST will be 100 times more powerful than the Hubble and is so big that NASA have had to fold the telescope into a Rocket which will then eject the craft before it unfolds segment by segment. The sunshield, which is bigger than a tennis court and will unfold first to shield harsh light will protect the super sensitive mirrors which are coated with an ultra thin layer of gold about 1000 atoms thick. This will hep the telescope channel and soak up lots of infrared light.
The JWST will launch from the European Spaceport in French Guiana via the European Space Agency’s Ariane 5 rocket, probably the most reliable space vehicle. The Rocket will then rush the JWST towards it destination over a 30-day one-million-mile one way trip towards the stars. Space Exploration will change forever.