Anticipation on the Johns Hopkins University campus continues to build as the James Webb Space Telescope launch nears. The team of Baltimore scientists is preparing the equipment, software, facilities and personnel that will serve as its brain and eyes on Earth.
As with the Hubble Space Telescope, scientists at the Space Telescope Science Institute on the Johns Hopkins University campus will lead the operation of determining which direction the telescope should be pointed and exactly what to study.
Institute engineers will radio instructions 1 million miles away to the Webb telescope, so hundreds of gigabits of data can be downloaded on a daily basis.
The Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy operations the institute for NASA, which is a lot of responsibility, but very familiar for the scientists. The institute had overseen the operations and scientific endeavors of the Hubble from 1999 to 2006, at which time the control room was moved to the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt.
Preparations are in acceleration mode as scientists have less than a year and a half to prepare Webb’s hexagonal-shaped mirror and basketball court-sized sun shield for its launch into space. Goddard spent the past few years constructing the telescope’s mirror and instruments, which will soon be heading to the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas for another phase of testing.
NASA has joined forces with the Canadian Space Agency and European Space Agency to launch the telescope from French Guiana on board a European Ariane 5 rocket.
The scientists received the last of the software and equipment in January and have been busy testing and learning more about them.
The Hubble Space Telescope (HST) was launched into in space over 25 years ago. As a next-generation telescope, Webb will be able to see at far greater distances, with greater clarity and sensitivity.
Astronomers have been brainstorming what type of research they will be able to accomplish with Webb – proving around black holes, searching for and exploring Earthlike planets and watching the formation of young galaxies. Information is being shared with the Baltimore scientists who will organize Webb’s order of observations.
As preparations for the launch continue, the scientists are anticipating the masses of data Webb will send back to will help them to explore the faraway universe.