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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 (opens in new tab) 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, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. As a proud Trekkie and Canadian, she also tackles topics like diversity, science fiction, astronomy and gaming to help others explore the universe. Elizabeth's on-site reporting includes two human spaceflight launches from Kazakhstan, three space shuttle missions in Florida, and embedded reporting from a simulated Mars mission in Utah. She holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, and a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Her latest book, Leadership Moments from NASA, is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday.