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NASA’s Work to Align the James Webb Space Telescope

After James Webb Space Telescope officials unveiled an image of a single star, the team is ready to get other telescope parts in line with the observatory’s mirrors. As the star image shows, the $10 billion telescope successfully aligned with its near-infrared camera. The observatory still has four other instruments that it must be able to switch between with perfect alignment to obtain sharp images of distant objects.

The work will begin with the guiding instrument and then extend to the other three instruments, a NASA’s update stated Thursday. Webb Space engineers expect this process, called multi-instrument multi-field alignment, will take six weeks. Webb should complete its commissioning period around June, six months after launching on Dec. 25, on an ambitious mission to observe the universe from deep space and gather data on objects ranging from exoplanets to galaxies.

Switching between cameras in space is complicated, but the telescope will eventually be able to use multiple instruments simultaneously. It was written by Jonathan Gardner, Webb’s deputy senior project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. The telescopes can have engineers available on-site to potentially remove instruments not needed in-between investigations. However, on Webb and other space telescopes, the procedure is different.

Gardner also added that the engineers learned the positions of three near-infrared instruments about the FGS and updated that information in the software used for telescope pointing. The engineers take “dark” images to see what happens when the instrument has no light reaching it, which allows personnel to calibrate it.

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