The big news for Webb this week was the final insertion into orbit around the second Lagrange point. The team also turned on the High-Gain Antenna, enabling downlink to Earth through the Deep Space Network using the Ka radio band. The Ka-band provides a much higher data rate than the S-band that Webb has been using for communications up until now. The Ka-band and the High-Gain Antenna will eventually allow the observatory to send all of the science images and data down to the ground for astronomers around the world to analyze and make discoveries.
As we look back on Webb’s first month in space, we asked Bill Ochs, Webb project manager, to share with us his thoughts on the mission so far:
“It has been about a month since launch, and it has been an unbelievable ride. I am so filled with pride for our team. The deployments could not have gone more perfectly. After the last wing deployment, more than one person made comments like, ‘it seemed so simple; did we overstate the complexity and difficulty of the deployments?’ The perfection of the deployment execution and the subsequent activities reflects directly on how hard everyone worked and the diligence and sacrifice it took on the part so many people. The fact that it looked simple is a tribute to all those over the years who have worked towards Webb mission success. We are now ready to align mirrors and commission instruments and have already proven that all the hardware associated with the optics (including 132 actuators) is working beautifully. By the time we get to instrument commissioning, we are going to have one hell of a telescope. Finally, our ops team and ground system have done a fantastic job of executing the commissioning timeline, and all those rehearsals have paid off. As folks on Webb know, I’m a pretty big Jimmy Buffett fan (understatement – I’m a parrot head). Driving around today, the song ‘Book On The Shelf’ came on, and this verse (particularly the third line, and I changed the fifth line) just shouted the JWST team to me.
And I know these stories were sailed way before me
Toss a note in a bottle and hope that it helps
I’m so damn lucky to have an all-star crew
Some stoic, some crazy, some just passin’ through
I know I’m so privileged to work with the best and
I’m all done explaining or passin’ some test
So pour me another, it’s good for my health
I’m not ready to put the book on the shelf
“Thanks to the Webb team for everything you have done and continue to do.”
—Bill Ochs, Webb project manager, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center
Next up: HD 84406! That is the first star Webb will point at to gather engineering data to start the mirror alignment process. The team chose a bright star (magnitude 6.7 at a distance of about 260 light-years, as measured by Gaia). The star is a sun-like G star in the Ursa Major constellation, which can be seen by Webb at this time of the year. This is just the first step; HD 84406 will be too bright to study with Webb once the telescope starts to come into focus. But for now, it is the perfect target to begin our search for photons, a search that will lead us to the distant universe.
By Jonathan Gardner, Webb deputy senior project scientist, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center
And Alexandra Lockwood, project scientist for Webb science communications, Space Telescope Science Institute