James Webb Telescope completes environmental testing ahead of 2021 launch

NASA's James Webb Space Telescope is the world’s largest, most powerful, and complex space science telescope ever and is slated for launch next year. In the march to launch of this $9.8 billion venture, the telescope is undergoing the final stages of testing after completing assembly back in August.

Yesterday, it successfully completed its environmental testing, indicating that that the telescope is ready to thrive in the harsh conditions that it will be subjected to once it's launched into space.

Webb’s recent tests have validated that the fully assembled observatory will endure the deafening noise, and the jarring shakes, rattles, and vibrations that the observatory will experience during liftoff. Known as “acoustic” and “sine-vibration” testing NASA has worked carefully with its international partners to match Webb’s testing environment precisely to what Webb will experience both on launch day, and when operating in orbit.

The environmental testing comprised of two stages in two separate facilities at the Northrop Grumman’s Space Park in Redondo Beach in California. In the first stage, the Webb was transported to the acoustic testing chamber where it was subjected to sound pressure levels above 140 decibels to mimic a rocket's ascent to space. Close to 600 individual channels of motion data were observed and recorded, and the test was marked as a success. In the second stage of the test, the telescope was transported to a separate facility to simulate low-frequency vibrations that occur during liftoff. This too was a success.

The James Webb Telescope. Image via NASA

While the telescope has been meticulously tested throughout its assembly and developmental stages, last night's tests, were a milestone achievement. This is because they are the last tests of their kind before the telescope will be ferried to South America for launch. However, the complete verification of flight worthiness will occur after the telescope has successfully completed final deployment tests.

These should be around the corner as the completion of the environmental tests put Webb into the pipeline for a final systems evaluation before it receives a go for launch. Should the things go according to plan and weather permitting, the James Webb Telescope will take flight atop the Ariane V rocket from Europe's Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana on October 31, next year.

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