James Webb Space Telescope instrument checkouts on track amid mirror alignment

An early image from the James Webb Space Telescope shows one star 18 times during the continuing mirror-alignment process.
An early image from the James Webb Space Telescope shows one star 18 times during the continuing mirror-alignment process. (Image credit: NASA/STScI/J. DePasquale)

Several instruments are preparing to help the James Webb Space Telescope with its mirror alignment and future observations, with several key steps achieved in recent days, according to NASA.

The filter wheel for the Near Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph (NIRISS) has been successfully calibrated, allowing this key part of the Fine Guidance System (FGS) to assist with alignment activities, agency officials wrote in a statement posted Thursday (Feb. 24).

Wheel tuning also took place for the Near Infrared Camera or NIRCam, which is best known in the mission so far for taking a stunning selfie of the 18 individual mirror segments at work earlier this month. The selfie helped engineers see how the mirrors are working as they slowly move to create a single image from all the segments.

"There are hundreds of activities like these planned during the commissioning process, and each is as important as the next to ensure that Webb can achieve its ambitious science goals," NASA officials wrote in the update.

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Webb will be completing its commissioning process  and starting a series of early science investigations around June, NASA has said.

That science includes projects like following up on interesting galaxies identified by its predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope. Webb will also be tasked to do a set of rapid science investigations as events arise, potentially including the arrival of the next interstellar object within our solar system.

Alignment is still ongoing and last week, Webb officials released an image of a single star rendered 18 times in the segments of the telescope's primary mirror. Over time, the instruments and mirror segments will work together to align the 18 portions into a single lens, making the same star only appear once.

The $10 billion telescope launched Dec. 25 and is expected to last for many years in deep space, given that its fuel usage alone gives Webb at least 20 years of lead time to perform observations.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for Space.com for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace