WASHINGTON – The two main parts of NASA's James Webb Space Telescope were first connected, a milestone in the spacecraft's pre-launch installation in 2021.
In a statement issued on August 28, NASA said Engineers at a Northrop Grumman facility in California have connected the telescope element of the observatory, which includes the mirrors and instruments, to the spacecraft bus and sunshade. The two sections are mechanically interconnected and the engineers are now working on the electrical connection.
The spacecraft's two sections have been separately assembled and tested throughout the mission's development process. The telescope element, formerly known as the Optical Telescope Element / Integrated Science Instrument Module (OTIS), was assembled at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center and subjected to a thermal vacuum test at the Johnson Space Center before arriving in California in early 201
"This is an exciting time when all Webb parts were put together for the first time in a single observatory," said Greg Robinson, JWST program director at NASA headquarters, said in a statement. "The engineering team has taken a big step forward, and soon we will be able to see incredible new views of our amazing universe."
"Soon," however, is a relative term. Even if the combined spacecraft is fully connected, it will be subject to additional testing, including the provision of its sunscreen and acoustic and vibratory environmental tests, which are expected to take place next year.
NASA is working on launching JWST for an Ariane 5 in March 2021. Earlier this year, however, members of an independent audit committee that examined previous problems with the telescope, which had begun its rollback from fall 2018, warned that the project appears to be using a higher deadline reserve. This raises doubts about the mission's ability to meet this new schedule.
The agency has not provided recent updates to JWST schedules, although schedules presented at a March meeting provided for the integration of the two elements of JWST mid-September. Both NASA and Northrop Grumman have stated in separate statements a JWST launch date of just 2021 at Northrop Grumman, a company statement said. "Seeing the entire observatory for the first time strengthens our commitment to mission success. There is still much to do, but it is a great feeling to see that something that was once a concept became reality. "