NASA’s new space telescope has been delayed.


Connor James Ibbetson, Editor-at-large

NASA’s Webb telescope joint project could look back in time to the formation of the first stars

Named after famous NASA administrator James Webb, who worked at NASA during the 1960s and played a crucial role in the Apollo missions. The Webb telescope is a joint project between Nasa, the European Space Agency, and the Canadian Space Agency.

The new Webb telescope is designed to examine light in the visible orange and red to infrared spectrum, unlike NASA’s other famous Hubble Telescope. Hubble is designed to view ultraviolet and blue light, the opposite end of the spectrum.

A artistic concept of the new Webb telescope that could see the formation of the first galaxies. Image : <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/nasawebbtelescope/16678793810/in/album-72157624413830771/">NASA -Flickr</a>

A artistic concept of the new Webb telescope that could see the formation of the first galaxies. Image : NASA -Flickr

This will allow the telescope to view objects farther away which are affected by something called the ‘Doppler effect’. The Doppler effect, discovered in 1842, change in frequency or wavelength of a wave in relation to observer who is moving relative to the wave source.

Practically what this means is that the light from stars and galaxies which are moving away from us changes, usually to red and infrared light. This is known as cosmological redshift. The Webb telescope, being designed to detect light in this part of the light spectrum means it will be able to see objects much further and older than before.

It is hoped that the increased range and resolution will allow the Webb telescope to capture light emitted millions of years ago from the formation of the first galaxies and planets, something never done before.

What is the hold up?

However, NASA announced last week that a “acoustics test anomaly” had delayed progress on the project.

Unlike Hubble, the site for the telescope to be deployed will be beyond the range of manned or even robotic missions, so once deployed, the Webb telescope is on its own. This means the project needs to be completely foolproof before launch.

“A very small human error or test anomaly can impact the schedule by months and the cost by tens of millions of dollars,” NASA said.

This is the latest in a string of delays that will see the launch date for the project pushed back to March 2021.

Other delays included “the need for more testing of the telescope’s intricate systems” as well as the sun shield. The sun shield took a month to deploy and two months to fold and stow, instead of an estimated three weeks.

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