Universe, we have a problem. Hubble is no longer operational, and James Webb is not yet up and running

On June 13, the Hubble Space Telescope entered safe mode, since then astronomical observations have been stopped. It was assumed that the problem is in the memory unit of the computer system NSSC-1, which is responsible for the operation of the scientific instruments of the telescope. Despite NASA’s attempts to solve the problem, so far the situation has not been brought under control.

There is a nonzero chance that the telescope will no longer be operational. Yet the 30 years during which Hubble has been working for the benefit of humanity is a very long time for space technology. In addition to memory, other systems and components can also be damaged or be on the verge of operability. But Hubble has an heir, so to speak, the James Webb Space Telescope. Let’s remember its history and see at what stage of implementation is the project to launch it into space.

How bad is Hubble

It is still unclear, but it has not been possible to restore its work for almost two weeks. Agency trying to to put into operation a backup computer, which has not worked since 2009, but so far there is no positive news.

At first, the agency tried to convert the telescope to backup memory, not once, but twice. But nothing happened, so it is quite possible that the malfunction is not in the memory, but in something else. In this case, it is a great idea to put into operation a backup computer that controls the scientific instruments of the telescope.

The computer unit itself, both the main and the double, was developed back in the 80s of the XX century. The main one worked for almost 20 years. The second was installed in 2009, during a special mission with the participation of astronauts. But the second computer contains the same components as the main one, they were produced in the 80s. Here more detailed information about these systems. It is now unknown whether the second computer has stood the test of time or not. If not, then either a new mission of space rescuers will have to be launched, which is unlikely, or the operation of the telescope will have to be completed.

But if this time it is possible to restore the system’s operability, then there are no guarantees of reliable operation in the future. So, at the beginning of spring, NASA was already engaged in recovering the system after an error in the onboard software. Then the problem was fixed quickly enough.

In any case, another space telescope is needed that will be able to continue the work of the Hubble, but with the help of updated scientific instruments.

James Webb Telescope

The project began in 1996, at first it was called the Next Generation Space Telescope (NGST). Everything is logical here, since this is exactly the next generation of space telescopes. The system was supposed to deepen the research carried out by Hubble, since its capabilities are wider (we will talk about this a little below).

A few years later, the project was renamed in honor of one of the first leaders of NASA. It is now the James Webb Space Telescope, or JWST for short.

Features of “Webb”

The new telescope is infrared. Working range – radiation from 0.6 to 28.5 microns. To fulfill the observational tasks assigned to the system, the telescope needs a mirror of impressive dimensions. But to make a solid mirror with a diameter of 6.5 meters, and even with a mass that allows you to send it into space, impossible not so easy. Therefore, it was decided to create a composite mirror of relatively small mass.

It consists of 18 hexagonal segments. The mirror will fully decompose upon arrival at its place in space. A one-piece mirror would be too large to be launched into space.

Each segment can be adjusted individually, each weighing about 20 kg. Plating, gold, very thin – a thousand times thinner than a human hair. The segments themselves are beryllium – in particular, because beryllium retains its shape at ultra-low temperatures.

The hexagonal shape of the segments is due to the need to remove the gaps between the elements, plus the shape of the mirror turns out, of course, not round, but close to circular – and this makes it possible to focus the light on the detectors.

The system’s sensitivity is so high that the telescope is able to detect a thermal object the size of a bumblebee at a distance from the Earth to the Moon.

The space telescope will be located at a distance of about 1.5 million km from the Earth. Hubble is in a low Earth orbit – 570 km. It is thanks to its proximity that astronauts are able to maintain the telescope. But with “Webb” it will not work out – if suddenly something goes wrong, the telescope will remain hanging at a great distance from our planet, it will not be repaired.

Telescope Tools

Near infrared camera

It is the main tool for Webb imaging. It recognizes infrared wavelengths from 0.6 to 5 microns. The camera will be able to see light from the earliest stars and galaxies, the young stars of the Milky Way and the Kuiper belt.

Near infrared spectrograph

The instrument is used to study the scattering of light from an object. Spectrum analysis will provide information about the physical data of the object: temperature, mass, chemical composition.

Mid-infrared device

This device sees wavelengths from 5 to 28 microns. It can see red shifted light from distant galaxies, re-emerging stars, and faint comets.

Precision Aiming Sensor

This tool will be used to detect the first light, to determine the characteristics of exoplanets.

The main objectives of the mission

The general list of tasks includes 286 different programs. All of them in the final list are broken down by the duration of observation:

  • ≤ 25 hours – small,
  • > 25 and ≤ 75 hours – average,
  • > 75 hours is large.

Ancient is far away

The main task of the telescope is to find out what the universe was like immediately after the Big Bang. Perhaps the new tool will help you understand where and when it started. reionization of the universeand also find out its reasons. James Webb will be able to observe distant galaxies, located at a distance of 13.5 billion light years from us. These galaxies appeared shortly after the Big Bang. “Soon”, of course, not according to the timeline of a person’s life, but in comparison with the time of existence of the Universe itself.

Ancient galaxies will be compared with modern ones – in particular, in order to find out the process of evolution of galactic objects of different types. The study period is from about 400 thousand years from the moment of the Big Bang to 500 million years.

Due to the fact that the telescope is infrared, it will not be greatly disturbed by gas and dust clouds, which are an insurmountable obstacle for the Hubble. Namely, such clouds are the cradle of stars and planetary systems, so that we can learn more about the possible origin of the solar system – by observing what is happening billions of light years away.

In addition, the telescope will monitor exoplanets – both very distant and relatively close. The infrared observation range here gives an advantage over some other observation instruments.

Additional tasks are the study of young stars in our galaxy, the study of star clusters of nearby galaxies, and the creation of a dark matter map.

Near present

The telescope will observe not only the past of the Universe, but also its present. Namely – behind objects in the solar system.

After the telescope is in place and deployed all the necessary systems, he will be tasked with studying Jupiter, its atmosphere, rings and moons. In particular, the polar region, where several huge cyclones are located, is of particular interest to scientists. The capabilities of the telescope make it possible to obtain the most detailed data on what is happening in the atmosphere of the gas giant.

Jupiter has its own rings, of course, not as chic as Saturn, but also nothing. But since Jupiter itself is a bright object, it is difficult to observe them. Well, Webb will make it possible to do this, enriching science with new data.

Then the telescope will begin to study two satellites of Jupiter – Ganymede, the size of which exceeds the size of the whole planet – Mercury, and Io, the volcanically active moon of the giant planet.

In addition, the telescope will study objects in the Kuiper belt.

According to astrophysicist and senior scientist of the James Webb mission, John S. Mather, the launch of the telescope will be the opening of an “infrared treasure chest and surprises are guaranteed there.”

Problems with the new telescope

It took a little more than 10 years to implement the project, but in fact it turned out more … Much more. At first, they wanted to send the telescope into space in 2007 (there is no typo here). But then a series of problems followed, the main one of which was the fall of the telescope to the floor in the assembly laboratory. The reason is the human factor, to put it simply – negligence. The technician unscrewed the bolts securing the telescope to the platform, and the team that proceeded to reposition the system ignored it. As a result, the telescope had to be restored, which took many months and $ 130 million.

The total cost of the project totaled $ 10 billion, while the initial amount allocated for the construction of the telescope was $ 626.7 million.

When will Webb launch?

It is hard to say. The launch of the telescope has already been postponed 19 times. Last time – June 2, 2021. True, now we are talking about postponing the launch date by just a few weeks – from October, as was originally planned, to October or December.

The telescope is planned to be sent into space from the Arianespace ELA-3 launch complex at the cosmodrome located near Kourou in French Guiana.

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