Why NASA is not showing real live images from the James Webb Telescope

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NASA has explained why there are no real live images of the James Webb Space Telescope from space as it continues to deploy its mirrors and other equipment.

The new telescope is currently gliding through space at over 900 miles per hour as it approaches its desired orbit around the sun.

At certain points during its trip, NASA has released live images of mission control as the telescope goes through the complex process of deploying its various components, including mirror segments and its heat shield.

But while NASA’s live videos provide an animated illustration of the current state of the telescope, it doesn’t provide actual live footage of the telescope, making people wonder why the space agency didn’t. not put a camera on Webb in the first place.

“We heard you loud and clear: why doesn’t Webb have cameras for his trip to #UnfoldTheUniverse?” NASA’s Webb Telescope Twitter account wrote Thursday afternoon.

In a blog post the same day, the space agency explained why it hadn’t installed cameras on James Webb so viewers could see his process unfold in action, even though it “looks like a no-brainer.”

After all, rockets like SpaceX’s Falcon 9 models frequently return images of space when they deploy satellites or other spacecraft into orbit, while NASA’s Perseverance rover has taken thousands of photos. of the surface of Mars.

“It’s not as simple as adding a doorbell camera or even a rocket camera,” said Paul Geithner, deputy project manager for the Webb Telescope at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, according to the blog.

Lighting is one of the most obvious reasons. Webb is currently experiencing extreme light contrasts, with one side subject to extreme sunlight glare and the other facing the blackness of space. These two elements would pose contrast problems for on-board cameras.

Another reason is the risk that the cameras cause unnecessary interference. The telescope is incredibly sensitive and parts of it are in motion right now. If engineers tied bundles of cables to Webb in order to hold the cameras in place, they would pass through the telescope’s moving parts and run the risk of heat leakage or vibration.

For example, the infrared light detectors in most of Webb’s instruments must be at temperatures of around -387 degrees Fahrenheit to function properly. Any heat transfer through eg camera wires could be a problem.

Even if the engineers were successful in overcoming these challenges, the point is that cameras would be rather useless for monitoring Webb’s deployment from a scientific standpoint.

The teams actually tried adding deployment cameras to a full-scale mockup of Webb hardware at one point, but found that the telescope’s built-in sensors provided much better information about its condition than the cameras, according to the NASA blog.

Anyway, while it would have been interesting to see footage of Webb’s surface, an on-board camera would have caused some engineering headaches.

NASA is currently providing data on Webb’s condition, including temperature, speed, distance, and stage of deployment through the Where’s Webb? Page. online tool.

An illustration of the James Webb Space Telescope. NASA uses on-board sensors to measure its status in space.
Goddard Space Flight Center / NASA Conceptual Imagery Lab
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