The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is the long-awaited successor to the Hubble Space Telescope. It will consist of 18 mirrors operating together in a way that mimics that of one gigantic telescope mirror in space.
The latest news is that as of three days ago all 18 mirrors have been mounted onto the telescope structure. Each mirror is about the size of a coffee table and weighs 88 pounds. This may sound heavy, yet in fact herculian efforts were made to keep each mirror so light!
Interestingly, this super lightweight material is pure beryllium. The chemical element beryllium is the lightest weight material that one can build with. Beryllium is also brittle, but this should not be a problem in space (although it may have made engineers nervous about handling it on the ground).
This element is relatively common in the Earth’s crust, yet beryllium is extremely rare on the surface. Beryllium could not be purchased from any hardware store or catalog. Instead, it had to be mined the old fashioned way from the only active mine in the continent, and by some accounts in the world. In fact all of this material with aluminum-like properties was sourced from Delta, Utah.
What happens next? Now all four of the instruments that will take the photographs and make the spectra will be affixed to the structure, then the whole telescope will be tested on the ground for another couple of years at Goddard Space Flight Center and Johnson Space Center before launch in the French Guinea in 2018. These are exciting times for this ‘great pyramid’ of the 21st century. Stay tuned!