The Next Generation Space Telescope
Originally dubbed the Next Generation Space Telescope, what is now known today as the James Webb Space Telescope is the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope. Scheduled to launch sometime in 2013, the Next Generation Space Telescope is being designed to be bigger and better than the Hubble with many more capabilities.
The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is a large, infrared-optimized space telescope. JWST will find the first galaxies that formed in the early Universe, connecting the Big Bang to our own Milky Way Galaxy. It will peer through dusty clouds to see stars forming planetary systems, connecting the Milky Way to our own Solar System. The next generation in space telescopes will have instruments that are designed to work primarily in the infrared range of the electromagnetic spectrum, with some capability in the visible range.
JWST will have a large mirror, 6.5 meters (21.3 feet) in diameter and a sunshield the size of a tennis court. Both the mirror and sunshade won’t fit onto the rocket fully open, so both will fold up and open only once it is in outer space. JWST will reside in an orbit about 1.5 million km (1 million miles) from the Earth.
When you consider that the next generation of space telescopes should be much more powerful than any other space telescopes, the technology that goes into producing them has to be much more advanced than we have ever known. Of course, advancements have been made, and observation of the current space telescope point to areas that need to be improved upon as construction continues on the JWST.
This telescope will be the premier observatory of the next decade serving thousands of astronomers worldwide. It will study every phase in the history of our universe ranging from the first glows after the Big Bang (if you’re so inclined to believe this story of how we got here) to the formation of solar systems capable of supporting life on planets like Earth as well as the evolution of our own solar system.
There are several innovative technologies that have been developed for this next generation of space telescopes. Among them are a folding, segmented primary mirror that will adjust to the shape after launch, and detectors that are able to record weak signals.
Just as with the Hubble, this next generation space telescope will be equipped with cameras and spectrographs designed to work in the infrared range of the electromagnetic spectrum. It will be sensitive to light from .6 to 27 micrometers in wavelength.
This next generation in space telescopes is an exciting and interesting venture as it is expected to tell us things we never imagined we could know from space.