The successor to the Hubble must evade 344 potential ‘single point failures’ to achieve its ambitious mission
The Webb must cruise for 29 days to a unique orbit around the sun that keeps it roughly 1 million miles from Earth, four times the distance to the moon. At launch, it will be folded upon itself, a shrouded package inside the cone of the European Space Agency’s Ariane 5 rocket. After it escapes Earth’s gravity, it must begin opening up, blossoming into a functioning telescope.
That starts with the deployment of the solar panels to make the whole thing work. Next comes the unfurling of a tennis-court-size expanse of multilayered foil — the sun shield, akin to a giant umbrella, ideally more reliable than what you would get from a drugstore.
The centerpiece of the telescope is a 21-foot-diameter mirror assembly, nearly three times the size of the mirror aboard the Hubble Space Telescope it’s meant to replace.
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