the sunshield

 

following the christmas day launch of the james webb space telescope (JWST), NASA prepares to deploy the telescope’s protective sunshield. because of the sunshield, the temperature is around 600 degrees fahrenheit less on the cold, shaded side of the observatory than it is on the hot, sunlit side. this five-layer shield ensures that direct sunlight will not interfere with the telescope’s sensitive instruments. 

 

NASA will livestream the deployment of the telescope’s sunshield tomorrow, january 3rd, 2022. this involves the process of unfolding the telescope from its launch configuration inside a rocket into its full open position, ready to start science operations. so far, a precise time is still to be determined, but viewers can monitor the NASA TV page (see here) to track updates on the event’s coverage. the deployment was originally scheduled for january 2nd, 2022, but the team opted to take a much-deserved break after a hard day’s work on new year’s day preparing for the deployment.

webb space telescope sunshield
the flight sunshield at northrop grumman in california | image © northrop grumman

 

 

keeping the space telescope shaded and cool

 

the james webb space telescope will observe primarily the infrared light from faint and very distant objects. in order to be able to detect those faint heat signals, the telescope itself must be kept extremely cold. to protect the telescope from external sources of light and heat (like the sun, earth, and moon) as well as from heat emitted by the observatory itself, JWST has a five-layer, tennis court-sized sunshield that acts like a parasol providing shade. according to NASA (see more here), each layer is as thin as a human hair.

webb space telescope sunshield
the five sunshield membrane layers are each as thin as a human hair

 

 

materials and positioning

 

the sunshield was designed and manufactured by the nexolve materials corporation (see here) in huntsville, alabama. it will always be positioned between the telescope and the sun/earth/moon. this orientation in space is possible because the telescope will be orbiting the sun 1.5 million kilometers away from — while sill in line with — the earth.

james webb space telescope to deploy its sunshield today: here's how to watch it live
the sunshield protects the telescope from external sources of light and heat — like the sun, earth, and moon

 

 

the james webb space telescope

 

the james webb space telescope will be the world’s premier space science observatory. NASA notes that JWST will solve the mysteries of our solar system, looking to distant worlds around other stars, and probing the mysterious structures and origins of our universe. it is an international project led by NASA with its partners, the european space agency (ESA) and the canadian space agency (CSA).

 

arianespace‘s ariane 5 rocket launched with NASA’s james webb space telescope onboard on saturday, december 25th, 2021. the event took place from the ELA-3 launch zone of europe’s spaceport at the guiana space center in kourou, french guiana. the large, infrared telescope integrates a primary mirror which measures 21.3 feet (6.5 meters). the observatory will study every phase of cosmic history — from within the solar system to the most distant observable galaxies in the early universe.

james webb space telescope to deploy its sunshield today: here's how to watch it live
arianespace’s ariane 5 rocket launches with NASA’s james webb space telescope onboard, december 25th, 2021
image courtesy NASA/bill ingalls

 

project info:

 

project title: sunshield for james webb space telescope

project team: NASA, northrop grumman

fabricator: nexolve

dimensions: approximately 21 meters x 14 meters (69.5 feet x 46.5 feet)