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James Webb Telescope Unfurls its Sunshield in Space

The James Webb Space Telescope, which launched on Christmas Day, successfully completed the deployment of its 70-foot sunshield on Tuesday. This milestone is one of several that must occur for the NASA observatory to function properly in space, and having achieved it was a big relief for the Webb team.Gregory L. Robinson, Webb’s program director at NASA

Headquarters said that unfolding the James Webb telescope’s sunshield in space is an incredible milestone, crucial to the success of the mission. Thousands of parts had to work with precision for this marvel of engineering to fully unfurl.The team has accomplished an audacious feat with the complexity of this deployment — one of the boldest undertakings yet for Webb.The massive five-layer sunshield will protect Webb’s giant mirror and instruments from the sun’s heat.

James Webb Telescope Unfurls its Sunshield in SpaceBoth the mirror and instruments need to be kept at a very frigid negative 370 degrees Fahrenheit to be able to observe the universe as designed.Each of the five sheets is as thin as a human hair and is coated with reflective metal. When the James Webb space telescope was launched, the sunshield was folded up to fit inside the Ariane 5 rocket that carried the telescope into space.

The eight-day process to unfold and tighten the protective shield began on December 28. This included unfolding the support structure for the shield over the course of multiple days before the tensioning, or tightening, of each layer could begin. The fifth layer of the sunshield was tightened and secured into place Tuesday at 11:59 a.m. ET.

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