NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope passes crucial milestone before commissioning

A great day is approaching for space exploration. On July 12, NASA will release the first images taken by the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). In anticipation of this highly anticipated day, the JWST team meticulously followed a program of 17 equipment checkpoints. A crucial step was taken last week with the calibration of the NIRSpec, one of the four scientific instruments on board James Webb. ”
We can’t wait to see the first scientific observations from NIRSpec arrive this summer!
commented the JWST team

The JWST consists of four scientific instruments, each of which contributes to the 17 checkpoints described by NASA. This equipment relies on some type of infrared light detection to study a portion of the electromagnetic spectrum invisible to human eyes.

Studying the intensity or brightness of light across wavelengths can provide key diagnostic information about the nature of various objects across the universe.
from extrasolar planets around distant stars, to faint galaxies at the edge of the universe, to objects in our own solar system
“, explain the experts of the JWST.

The NIRCam near infrared camera will have the mission of detecting and imaging the cosmos as it was at the beginning of time. ” If the NIRCam does not work, the telescope does not work simply summarizes Alison Nordt, director of space science and instrumentation at the aerospace giant Lockheed Martin, who participated in the development of the JWST.

A comparison of visible and infrared views of the Monkey’s Head Nebula taken by the Hubble Telescope. Hubble’s infrared capabilities pale in comparison to those of James Webb. © NASA, Esa

Then there is the Mid-Infrared Instrument, or MIRI, which features both a camera and a spectrograph intended to dissect items illuminated by light in the mid-infrared electromagnetic region. the Near-Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrographor NIRISS, is essentially an instrument for hunting exoplanets.

The JWST also embeds a navigation system, called a fine guidance sensor, which helps the telescope not to get lost. And finally, the star of NASA’s latest update is the Near Infrared Spectrograph, or NIRSpec.

What is the NIRSpec?

The Near Infrared Spectrograph is the Webb Telescope instrument that observes the spectra of astrophysical and planetary objects at near infrared wavelengths
», Details the JWST team. By observing infrared light from early stars and galaxies, the telescope could help scientists advance their knowledge of the origins of the universe.

Alison Nordt, engineer at Lockheed Martin, working on Webb’s NIRCam. © Lockheed Martin

As for target acquisition, the JWST team says the NIRSpec has a mirror that can place cosmic targets in the appropriate location as the telescope explores. This is crucial because this information helps NIRSpec’s spectrograph know where to look. To do this, the mirror has two techniques:Aperture Target Acquisition (WATA) and Micro-Shutter Assembly-based Target Acquisition (MSATA).

A simulation of the target acquisition process based on NIRSpec’s MSA. The instrument uses ‘reference stars’ which can be seen here, observed through fixed slits in the device. © Nasa, Esa, NIRSpec team

WATA is large aperture target acquisition while MASATA is based on micro shutter assembly. During testing, the team said the WATA behaved ” excellent and that the MSATA has made solid progress.

Now that NASA has passed these milestones, there are only seven more checkpoints to complete before we get to July 12 for the first big moment of James Webb’s mission. article adapted by CNETFrance

Image: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Conceptual Image Lab

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