NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, the largest and most powerful ever built, has entered its “integration and test” phase, according to scientists at Goddard Space Flight Center where the telescope and scientific instruments are being assembled and tested.
Named after former NASA administrator James E. Webb, the telescope is set to surpass its predecessor, the Hubble, with numerous technological advancements.
“It’s optimized to work in the infrared part of the spectrum. This means that we can use Webb to see things that Hubble cannot. And so we will look back to see the very first stars and galaxies born after the big bang literally watch the universe light up for the first time,” said Dr. Eric Smith, James Webb Space Telescope Deputy Program Director.
For the next 18 months, the over $8-billion Webb will undergo extensive testing including simulations of the rocket launch and a cryogenic test that will expose the telescope to temperatures -400 Fahrenheit (-240 Celsius).
Scientists hope the James Webb Telescope will be able to study the atmosphere on recently discovered Earth-sized planets in a nearby solar system orbiting the TRAPPIST-1 star.
“One of the first things I’m sure the telescope will do is study these atmospheres to see if they might be places where life could exist,” said Smith.
When assembled, the Webb telescope is as tall as a three-story building. According to NASA, it will fold “origami-style” into an Ariane 5 rocket and deploy like a “Transformer” once in space.
It is scheduled to launch in October 2018.