At NASA, it is now estimated that James Webb’s reserves could keep him running for twenty years.
This is another great news for astronomers who will have access to James Webb’s data. The latest NASA estimates suggest that the telescope’s operational career could span a total of twenty years. In fact, the lifespan of the observatory could be quadrupled compared to the five years which were initially mentioned.
This assessment was given on January 8, 2022 by Mike Menzel, James Webb’s systems engineer at the US space agency, during an exchange with a person asking if it was possible to extend by a somehow its functioning. The passage is available in this video and starts shortly after 32 minutes:
« We have a fairly large fuel margin compared to the ten-year mark Mike Menzel observed. So much so, he added, that the teams assess the current reserves at ” about 20 years of propellant “. It is considerable compared to the initial expectations. But he stressed that this is a rough estimate that needs to be further refined.
Ariane 5 did the job
How is it that the telescope, which left with a precise volume of propellant (its fuel), is now able to potentially quadruple its operational career? Two factors have played a role: quality of the launch carried out by the European rocket Ariane 5, on December 25, 2021, and the effectiveness of the trajectory adjustments during the flight from the observatory to its destination.
Due to the precision of the launch and the finesse of the corrections, the tanks were used very little. All the fuel preserved during these early stages and during the observatory’s journey into space is fuel that can now be considered for something else, in this case the scientific work of the telescope.
Because this fuel will be very useful to operate James Webb 1.5 million kilometers from Earth. In addition to its role in travel and insertion into orbit at the desired location, this propellant will be used to keep the telescope in its place during its lifetime, but also to point its “eye” to all points of interest in the field. deep in the Universe.
Since its departure from Earth on December 25, the good news has followed one another: the observatory, which is due to arrive at its destination at the end of January, has successfully deployed its secondary mirror, then the main structure that makes up its primary mirror. From now on, all that remains is to take out the 18 segments which will complete the primary mirror.
This step, which will begin in mid-January, constitutes the last major sequence in the installation of the telescope. James Webb will then enter a very long phase which will be the opportunity for NASA to check the operation of all the instruments. It will last until mid-2022. It is only after that that his “eye” can begin to scan the cosmos.