James Webb Space Telescope Gains 'Golden Eye'

In this image the James Webb Space Telescope’s secondary mirror is worked on by several engineers at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. Photo Credit: Chris Gunn / NASA

NASA’s new James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has gained a golden “eye.” The eye is actually a secondary mirror which is coated in gold. This mirror has been affixed to a platform.

The secondary mirror is different than the 18 hexagonal segments that comprise the JWST’s largest mirror in that it is, according to NASA, “perfectly rounded.”

This secondary mirror arrived at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, located in Greenbelt, Md., on Nov. 5 and is convex, much like the mirrors that are used on motorcycles and other vehicles. Ball Aerospace is the mirror’s manufacturer.

“The thickness of the gold coating on the mirrors is only 100 nanometers thick, or a 10th of a micron, which is 1/10,000th of a millimeter,” said Paul Geithner, deputy project manager, technical, for the Webb telescope at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “A human hair is roughly 1,000 times thicker.”

JWST has been touted as the successor for the Hubble Space Telescope. However, the JWST is a near infrared telescope and Hubble is a near ultraviolet, near infrared and visible light telescope.

Some of the mirrors that will be employed by the James Webb Space Telescope. Image Credit: NASA

The Webb telescope is the most powerful space telescope ever developed, in terms of development. It is also the most expensive.

The JWST was on the congressional chopping block after costs soared to more than $3 billion. However, in 2011, with approximately 75 percent of the telescope either in production or produced, additional funding to complete the project was capped at $8 billion and the mission was saved.

Unlike other space-based telescopes (Hubble, Spitzer, Chandra, etc.), the James Webb Space Telescope will be launched atop an Ariane 5 rocket. All of NASA’s prior space telescopes were launched on either one of NASA’s fleet of space shuttles or atop expendable launch vehicles such as the Delta II. The Ariane 5 is produced by Arianespace, a French company formed in 1980.

Planning for the JWST began in 1996 and comprised some 17 different nations with significant leadership roles played by NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). The telescope is named in honor of NASA’s second administrator, James E. Webb, who was a key player in the Apollo Program that landed astronauts on the Moon.

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