How is the James Webb Space Telescope doing?

Who has been following the James Webb Space Telescope? It will take a while to travel nearly 1 million miles to get to its working position, but is everything still working as planned? $10 billion sounds like a lot of money, but considering that the federal government spent at least $10 trillion on less than 2 years of coronapanic, the James Webb money wouldn’t have funded coronapanic for even a single day.

It looks like the launch prep was similar to how my friends in Maskachusetts set up their living rooms prior to receiving grocery deliveries, March 2020 through present:

The original plan for unfolding (completed on January 8):

There is no visible light camera on the fancy machine, right? What do readers predict about the American public’s interest level in infrared-derived images? My prediction: it will be reasonably high for a year or so, as long as the pseudo-color images are of exoplanets.

I wonder if the name of the telescope tells us something about American culture. James Webb had no scientific training. From Wikipedia:

He completed his college education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he received an Bachelor of Arts in Education in 1928. He was a member of the Acacia fraternity. Webb became a second lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps, and he served as a Marine Corps pilot on active duty from 1930 to 1932. Webb then studied law at The George Washington University Law School, where he received a J.D. degree in 1936. In the same year, he was admitted to the Bar of the District of Columbia.

He was a high-level government official, however:

After World War II, Webb returned to Washington, DC and served as executive assistant to Gardner, now the Undersecretary of the Treasury, for a short while before he was named as the director of the Bureau of the Budget in the Office of the President of the United States, a position that he held until 1949. Webb was recommended for the appointment to Truman by Gardner and Treasury Secretary John Snyder. … Truman’s objective for the budget was to bring it to balance after the large expenditures of World War II

President Harry S. Truman next nominated Webb to serve as an undersecretary of state in the U.S. Department of State, which he began in January 1949.

On February 14, 1961, Webb accepted President John F. Kennedy’s appointment as Administrator of NASA,

(Note shocking anachronistic content highlighted in bold!)

The previous big telescope, launched in 1990, was named after Edwin Hubble, a Ph.D. astronomer who figured out that there were other galaxies and that they were moving away from us.

So… when nobody said “I follow the science”, our expensive telescope was named after a scientist. Now that half the country says “I follow the science,” our expensive telescope is named after a politician/bureaucrat.

(We may see a loosely analogous progression in New York governors. Elliot Spitzer paid young women to have sex with him; Andrew Cuomo simply took the bodies of young women without paying.)

As someone who lives in completely flat state that Verizon is nonetheless unable to cover with a mobile data network, I’m curious to see if the design goal of 28 Mbps communication can be achieved.

I think it would be interesting if there were some cameras on the sunshield that could send back visible light images of the telescope itself (but maybe it will be far too dark for that? The telescope will be illuminated only by starlight if the shield works, right?). Or a camera with a sun filter on the back of the sunshield to give us a constant image of the Sun with the Earth and Moon in the foreground? I haven’t worked out the geometry to determine how big the Earth and Moon would be relative to the Sun from that perspective, but maybe it would be hopeless due to the small relative size of the Earth and Moon combined with the brightness of the Sun.

9 thoughts on “How is the James Webb Space Telescope doing?

  1. Fake color images are lies, frequency filtered color images are highlights. Will see if optical array will stay in clean room pristine condition on LEO, which we are told is littered with debris of human activity in space, and just micro-meteorites. Are regular mirror repairs projected into James Webb telescope lifecycle?

    • Somewhat fooled by comparison to Hubble telescope I thought that James Webb telescope will be spinning at LEO. It will not as Patrick’s post below clarifies. Better check when not sure. “The James Webb Space Telescope will not be in orbit around the Earth, like the Hubble Space Telescope is – it will actually orbit the Sun, 1.5 million kilometers (1 million miles) away from the Earth at what is called the second Lagrange point or L2. What is special about this orbit is that it lets the telescope stay in line with the Earth as it moves around the Sun. This allows the satellite’s large sunshield to protect the telescope from the light and heat of the Sun and Earth (and Moon).”

    • L2 is an unstable Lagrange point with gravitational potential forming a saddle. This means that dust and ricks aren’t a problem there, but it also means that a spacecraft will have to expend fuel (slowly) to stay there. The Earth partially shields the Sun there, which may be good or bad depending on relative importance of energy supply vs cooling (if full sun light is needed the spacecraft can orbit around the L point).

  2. Since the sun/earth and L2 are in line, and the sun’s angular diameter from L2 is a bit bigger than earth’s, there will be a permanent “annular eclipse” of the sun by the earth An annular eclipse (of the sun by the moon from earth) looks pretty cool if you filter it enough, but with the “naked eye” you probably wouldn’t be able to make it out. The moon from L2 isn’t very impressive either, as the above reddit post points out.

  3. What is with the double-posters on this website? I think it’s worse than any other place I’ve seen on the internet. (Maybe the lack of an edit button?)

    Anyway, the space telescope is in L2 orbit as of 1/24 (today) and it has no onboard cameras for reasons NASA explained in a blogpost I won’t look up (short version: No useful information could come from them). And it seems like “Webb” is the most popular thing they’ve done at least since Hubble. Who knows if the images will be desktop background image worthy, though. Maybe we’ll see “Planet X” (the unconquered!)

  4. The last engineer administrator was Mike Griffin who was well hated. The rest have been politicians & astronauts who are manely politicians. NASA is so political & certain NASA bean counters are so outspoken, it wouldn’t be surprising if they launched a Lueders space probe. The government will never fund a Musk space probe.

  5. I don’t have a good #Scientific exegesis of why I hope it works properly, but I do. With the health problems I’ve had recently, I’ve found things like watch (timepiece) repair channels and videos very soothing and interesting. I remember being terribly disappointed as a child by the aberration in the Hubble’s mirror and given the intricacy of this telescope, I really want it to work and not disappoint the people who spent so much of their professional lives developing it. I really don’t care that much about the spectacular imagery or even seeing “backward in time” to the origins of the universe – my recent concerns are much more foregrounded – but I would feel terrible sympathy with people who built the telescope, should it fail.

    I know, it’s more grounded in some romantic emotion than #Science but I really do wish them luck.

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