Excitement and tension: This is how Rusty Whitman says he will feel the 30 days ahead after the launch of the historic James Webb Space Telescope, now scheduled for Saturday.
From a secure control room in Baltimore, Maryland, Whitman and his colleagues will hold their breath when the telescope connects.
But this will only be the beginning.
In the six months following launch, Whitman and the team at the Institute of Science in space telescope They will monitor the telescope 24 hours a day, and make small adjustments to ensure the telescope is perfectly calibrated for astronomers around the world exploring the universe.
But the crucial moment will be at the start of the mission: The telescope must be positioned on a precise trajectory, with its massive mirror and a larger lens hood deployed at the same time. A very dangerous process.
“At the end of 30 days, I can breathe a sigh of relief if we stick to schedule.” said Whitman, director of flight operations system engineering.
Whitman leads the team of technicians who installed the control room in James Webb, a high-tech center with dozens of screens to monitor and control satellite devices in real time.
In the front row, one person will have the ability to send commands to the $10 billion machine, which will eventually settle into an orbit more than 1.5 million kilometers away.
In other positions, engineers will monitor certain systems for anomalies.
After launch, telescope operations will be largely automated, but the team in Baltimore should be ready to deal with any unforeseen problems.
Over the course of dozens of simulations, engineers have trained how to perform the rapid diagnostics and troubleshooting developed by the team, as well as experts from around the world. Europe and California.
During one of those tests, the building had electricity cut off.
‘It was totally unexpected’Whitman said. “People who didn’t know thought it was part of the plan.”
Fortunately, the team prepared for such an event: a backup generator quickly returned power to the control room.
Despite preparations, Whitman worries that something may go wrong: “I’m nervous about the possibility that we’ll forget something. I always try to think ‘what have we forgotten?'”
In addition to its function of preserving James Webb In operation, Institute of Science space telescope Based at the prestigious Johns Hopkins University, it manages who can use the expensive scientific instrument.
The telescope will operate roughly 24 hours a day, seven days a week, leaving just 8,760 hours a year to distribute to scientists clamoring for their chance at a pioneering discovery.
Black holes, exoplanets and star clusters – how do you decide which experiment has priority?
By the end of 2020, researchers from around the world had submitted more than 1,200 proposals, 400 of which were finally selected for the first year of work.
Hundreds of independent professionals gathered for two weeks in early 2021, online due to the pandemic, to discuss proposals and narrow the list.
The proposals were anonymous, a practice first launched by the Space Telescope Science Institute for the Hubble Telescope Project, which it also directs. As a result, many projects were chosen by women and scholars early in their careers.
“Those are exactly the kind of people we want the Observatory to use, because it’s about new ideas,” Claus Pontopedan, Scientific Director of James Webb.
The time required for each monitoring project varies in duration, with some needing only a few hours and the longest around 200.
What will be the first pictures that will be revealed to the public? “I can’t say, it’s supposed to be a surprise.”Pontopedan said.
Early release of images and data will allow scientists to quickly understand the capabilities of the telescope and configure systems that work in unison.
“We want them to be able to do their scientific work with it quickly.”Pontopedan explained. Then they can come back and say ‘Hey, we need to do more feedback based on the data we already have.
Pontopedan, the astronomer himself, believed that the telescope would lead to many discoveries “So far more than we’ve seen before.”
Prior to Hubble’s launch, no exoplanets (planets orbiting stars outside our solar system) had been discovered. Since then, scientists have found thousands.
“Creator. Devoted pop culture specialist. Certified web fanatic. Unapologetic coffee lover.”