Eyes on: Watching NASA Work on the JWST with ‘Webb-cam’
Just because NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has been moved from its previous home at the Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) in Greenbelt, Maryland, to the Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, Texas, does not mean that space fans – who have been keeping track of its various assemblies and testing processes thanks to the aptly named “Webb-cam” – are going to stop seeing the beautiful and complex astronomical instrument.
NASA has continued its very popular Webb-cam monitoring of the JWST with a special Webb camera installed in JSC’s clean room in front of the massive thermal vacuum testing chamber known as Chamber A. This testing chamber is an actual National Historic Landmark, for it was once used to evaluate hardware for the Apollo manned lunar missions.
That testing regime included having astronauts inside the vacuum chamber to check out their space suits with realistic lunar conditions. In the last few years, Chamber A underwent some major upgrades for the very purpose of testing the JWST.
Although the space telescope will not be visible once it is inside the chamber when the JWST undergoes cryo-optical testing, there will be plenty for viewers to see of the instrument in the JSC cleanroom itself for several weeks before and after it is tested in Chamber A.
While the JWST was at GSFC from 2012 until just this year, two Webb-cams inside the facility’s clean room provided still photographs of the elaborate satellite refreshed once each minute. Among the imaged highlights of the JWST while it was at Goddard was the installation of all 18 gold-coated mirror segments of the telescope’s primary mirror.
“The two Webb-cams we installed in Goddard’s giant cleanroom have developed a huge following over the last five years,” said Maggie Masetti, who is the social media manager and Web developer on the JWST mission. “With millions of views every month, you can bet that if there was a camera glitch, we heard about it right away.”
The JWST is an infrared astronomical observatory, the scientific and technological successor to the Hubble Space Telescope (HST). Among its science goals are the search for the first galaxies or luminous objects formed after the Big Bang, witnessing the formation of stars from their first stages to the formation of planetary systems, and measuring the physical and chemical properties of planetary systems in part to determine if any of these alien worlds may be capable of supporting life.
This animation demonstrates how the JWST will deploy itself in space once it is launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida in 2018:
Video courtesy of Northrop Grumman
Larry Klaes is an author and freelance journalist specializing in news and educational work on the sciences. Klae's past endeavors include editor of SETIQuest magazine and President of the Boston chapter of the National Space Society (NSS). Klaes joined SpaceFlight Insider in 2016.