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NASA Says It Fixed Minor Issues on $10 Billion Webb Telescope, Hopes for ‘Boring’ Status

NASA Says It Fixed Minor Issues on $10 Billion Webb Telescope, Hopes for ‘Boring’ Status
The telescope is the largest and strongest astronomical observatory launched, taken to space on Christmas Day from French Guiana.

NASA said Monday it fixed minor issues on the $10 billion James Webb Space Telescope, with a project manager hoping for a “boring” status.

Flight controllers in Maryland reset Webb’s solar panel to draw more power and repointed the telescope to restrict sunlight on six overheating motors. Officials said the motors cooled enough to start securing the sunshield, but the process could be stopped if the problems resurface.

“Everything is hunky-dory and doing well now,” Amy Lo, a lead engineer for the telescope’s main contractor, Northrop Grumman, said. Lo said there was never any danger to the telescope, deemed to be the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, with a sustained power source.

“The best thing for operations is boring, and that’s what we anticipate over the next three days, is to be boring,” project manager Billy Ochs told reporters during a teleconference.

The telescope is fully open and is currently being stretched tight. Ochs believes the tightening of the sunshield will go smoothly. The operation is expected to be completed Wednesday.

The telescope is the largest and strongest astronomical observatory launched, taken to space on Christmas Day from French Guiana. In order to fit in the European Ariane rocket, its sunshield and primary mirror was folded.

The telescope’s gold-plated mirror, spanning over 21 feet across, could unfold as early as this weekend.

The sunshield is vital for keeping Webb’s infrared-sensing instruments at subzero temperatures, as they scan the universe for the first stars and galaxies, and examine the atmospheres of alien worlds for possible signs of life.

Getting the sunshield extended last Friday “was really a huge achievement for us,” said Ochs. All 107 release pins opened properly.

Webb should reach its destination 1 million miles (1.6 million kilometers) away by the end of January. As of Monday, the telescope was more than halfway there. The infrared telescope should begin observing the cosmos by the end of June, ultimately unveiling the first stars and galaxies formed in the universe 13.7 billion years ago. That’s a mere 100 million years after the universe-creating Big Bang.

Launched in 1990, Hubble, which sees primarily visible light, has peered as far back as 13.4 billion years ago. Astronomers hope to close the gap with Webb, which is 100 times more powerful.

In another bit of good news Monday, officials said they expect Webb to last well beyond the originally anticipated 10 years based on its fuel efficiency.