WASHINGTON – The two major sections of the James Webes Wescope Space Telescope are connected to each other for the first time, a major moment in the assembly of the spacecraft before the 2021 launch. Northrop Grumman in California compared the telescope element of the observatory, which includes its mirrors and instruments, to the spacecraft's bar and sunscreen. The two sections are mechanically connected, with engineers now working on electrical connections.
The two sections of the spacecraft have been assembled and tested separately throughout the extended mission development process to date. The telescope element, officially known as the Optical Telescope Element / Integrated Scientific Instrument Module, or OTIS, was assembled at NASA's Godard Space Flight Center and went through a thermal vacuum at the Johnson Space Center before arriving in California in early 201
"This is an exciting time to see all parts of Webb finally united in one observatory for the first time," Greg Robinson, program director of JWST at NASA Headquarters, said in a statement. "The engineering team has taken a huge step forward and we will soon be able to see incredible new views of our amazing universe."
"Soon, however," is a relative concept. Even after the combined spacecraft is fully connected, it will pass additional tests, including placement of solar screens and acoustic and vibration environmental tests, which is expected to take place next year.
NASA is working to launch the Ariane 5 JWST in March 2021. However, earlier this year, members of an independent review board that evaluated previous problems with the telescope that pushed its launch in the fall of 2018 d, warned that the project appears to be using a higher-speed schedule reserve than expected, casting doubt on the mission's ability to stay on this new schedule.
The Agency did not provide a recent update of the JWST schedules, although the deadlines presented at the March meeting provided for the integration of the two elements of the JWST by mid-September. Both NASA and Northrop Grumman, in separate statements, listed the JWST launch date only in 2021.
"This milestone is a huge achievement for all of us at Northrop Grumman and NASA," Scott Willoughby, Vice President and Program Manager of JWST at Northrop Grumman, the company said in a statement. "Seeing the full observatory for the first time further strengthens our commitment to mission success. There is still a lot of work to be done, but it's great to see something that was once a concept come true. “