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James Webb Space Telescope team takes break before tightening up vital sunshield

A graphic depicts the James Webb Space Telescope with its sunshield unfurled.
A graphic depicts the James Webb Space Telescope with its sunshield unfurled. (Image credit: NASA)

To celebrate the new year, consider taking a day to rest.

That's what the team managing the complicated process of deploying the James Webb Space Telescope are doing, taking Saturday (Jan. 1) off. Work will resume on Sunday (Jan. 2), according to an agency update (opens in new tab).

The pause comes after a long day on Friday (Dec. 31), which the team spent deploying the two mid-booms that support the width of the observatory's kite-shaped sunshield.

Live updates: NASA's James Webb Space Telescope mission
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"Work on the deployment of Webb's sunshield mid-booms went late into the night yesterday," agency officials wrote in the update. "Webb mission management decided this morning to pause deployment activities for today and allow the team to rest and prepare to begin Webb's sunshield tensioning."

Today also marks one full week since the observatory's long-awaited Christmas-morning launch.

But launch wasn't the most nerve-wracking time for JWST. During its first week in space, the telescope has deployed its solar arrays, conducted two course-correcting burns, and unfolded the massive sunshield that will protect sensitive instruments from the sun. The full deployment process requires one month and more than 300 points where a wrong step will doom the observatory.

The next step in that marathon is to separate the five membranes of the sunshield in a process that NASA calls "tensioning" and that is expected to take two days. Originally expected to begin today and conclude tomorrow, it will now begin tomorrow and conclude Monday (Jan. 3), if all goes smoothly.

The successful tensioning of the sunshield will mark the end of the deployment process for this key piece of JWST. The agency has said that it will hold a press conference after tensioning is complete. The observatory will then move on to unfolding its secondary mirror, according to a NASA timeline (opens in new tab) detailing the deployment process.

As of today at 1:30 p.m. EST (1830 GMT), JWST was located more than 475,000 miles (760,000 kilometers), more than halfway through its long journey to its final station in orbit around what astronomers call Earth-sun Lagrange point 2, or L2.

Email Meghan Bartels at mbartels@space.com or follow her on Twitter @meghanbartels. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook. 

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Meghan is a senior writer at Space.com and has more than five years' experience as a science journalist based in New York City. She joined Space.com in July 2018, with previous writing published in outlets including Newsweek and Audubon. Meghan earned an MA in science journalism from New York University and a BA in classics from Georgetown University, and in her free time she enjoys reading and visiting museums. Follow her on Twitter at @meghanbartels.