Building the biggest eye in space

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Science  19 Feb 2016:
Vol. 351, Issue 6275, pp. 806-807
DOI: 10.1126/science.351.6275.806

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Constructing a successor to the Hubble Space Telescope has been an epic undertaking involving more than 1000 people in 17 countries over 2 decades. As that effort reaches its climax, the components of the James Webb Space Telescope face a complex series of tests to ensure that the telescope deploys—and works—perfectly. Webb's instruments have already undergone three "cryo-vacuum" tests at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, to simulate operations in the cold vacuum of space. In 2017, the telescope and its instruments will observe an artificial universe inside a giant vibration-damping chamber at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. In 2018, the collapsible telescope will be packed into a capsule and launched into space. All of its components—its solar power array, sunshield, 6.5-meter main mirror, and boom-mounted secondary mirror—must unfold perfectly as the spacecraft cruises to its final orbit, 1.5 million kilometers from Earth.