James Webb Space Telescope – New Milestone

May 9th, 2012

James Webb Space Telescope - Credit: ESA

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) project has reached yet another milestone.

The first instrument to be completed for JWST has been transferred from the European Space Agency to NASA – the Mid InfraRed Instrument, or MIRI for short.

This month’s handover comes at the end of a rigorous testing and calibration phase during which MIRI proved it can deliver cutting-edge science, noted an ESA press statement.

MIRI comprises a camera and spectrometer and will operate at infrared wavelengths and at an extremely low temperature.

What does MIRI do?

MIRI will be capable of penetrating thick layers of dust obscuring regions of intense star birth, it will see galaxies near the beginning of the Universe, and it will study sites of new planet formation and the composition of the interstellar medium.

The low temperatures to be seen by MIRI are required to keep the instrument’s own infrared emission from overwhelming the faint signals from astronomical targets of interest in the distant Universe.

2018 launch

The JWST will be positioned about four times further from Earth than the Moon – 1.5 million kilometers beyond Earth’s orbit around the Sun, around the gravitationally stable point known as L2.

The NASA-led JWST is headed for a planned launch in 2018 on an Ariane 5 rocket from Europe’s spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.

MIRI is part of the telescope’s Integrated Science Instrument Module.

The European Space Agency is also leading the development of another of JWST’s four instruments: NIRSpec, the Near-Infrared Spectrograph.

That instrument will obtain spectra of more than 100 galaxies or stars simultaneously to study star formation and chemical abundances of young distant galaxies.

Northrop Grumman and Ball Aerospace are the prime contractors for JWST.

By Leonard David