Here's Why NASA Just Delayed Making James Webb Space Telescope Sunshield Adjustments

james webb telescope launch
The sunshield of the James Webb Space Telescope is nothing if not impressive. It is an essential part of the telescope and it is therefore important to guarantee it is working correctly. NASA is not quite ready to tension the sunshield, but there is no need for panic yet. NASA delayed adjusting the James Webb Space Telescope sunshield in order to first study its power subsystem.

The James Webb Space Telescope originally launched on December 25th. The telescope’s mission is to search for the light of the first stars and galaxies in our universe and study the formation and evolution of stars, galaxies, and planets. Its nominal mission time is five years with the potential for ten years. However, scientists are first spending a month conducting a variety of tests to prepare the telescope for its long mission. They have purposely created a "flexible commissioning schedule" that allows them to delay deployments if needed.

webb telescope sunshield tensioning
Example of the Sunshield Tensioning Completion

The team is especially interested in seeing "how the power subsystem is operating now that several of the major deployments have been completed." They also want to make sure that the motors that are needed during the tensioning process are at a desirable temperature. They had previously conducted many simulations, but nothing can compare to studying the telescope in space. Mike Menzel, the James Webb Space Telescope’s lead engineer, commented, "We’ve had a week to see how the observatory actually behaves in space. It’s not uncommon to learn certain characteristics of your spacecraft once you’re in flight. That’s what we’re doing right now."

NASA will tension the telescope’s sunshield later today after the above tests have been conducted. The process should take roughly two days and NASA will hold a press conference once this test is complete. They will then deploy the telescope’s "Secondary Mirror Support Structure." The full deployment timeline is available on NASA’s website.

The team has already previously taken advantage of their rather flexible schedule. The team unfurled the sunshield’s two "mid-booms" or arms on New Year’s Eve. This deployment went late into the night and was a nerve-wracking experience. The Webb mission management decided to give the team January 1st off to allow them to recuperate.

Image of launch of James Webb Space Telescope courtesy of NASA/Bill Engalls. Image of sunshield tensioning courtesy of NASA