NASA’s new $10 billion observatory is completing a nerve-wracking sequence of steps to reach its final configuration and location.
The James Webb Space Telescope‘s “29 days on the edge,” as NASA has dubbed the lengthy and complex deployment process, began when the spacecraft launched on Saturday (Dec. 25). Since then, the observatory has reached key milestones like unfurling its solar array and adjusting its trajectory. Still to come are steps like opening its sunshield and arranging its mirrors.
You can track the observatory throughout the process at the NASA website dedicated to the mission. The website includes details about the spacecraft’s location and speed.
Live updates: NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope mission
In photos: The Christmas launch of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope
Even just a few days into its journey, Webb has already covered more than one-third of the distance to its final orbit, circling a point known as L2, or the Earth-sun Lagrange point 2. Here, nearly 1 million miles (1.5 million kilometers) away from Earth on the opposite side as the sun, the gravitational tugs of the sun and Earth balance out, creating a relatively stable environment for spacecraft.
Once Webb’s temperature sensors deploy, the dashboard will also provide temperatures for both the hot side of the spacecraft, facing the sun, and the cold side, which will be protected by the massive sunshield.
The main dashboard also includes details about the most recent deployment stage Webb has completed, with information pulled from NASA’s main deployment timeline.
If all goes according to plan, the telescope will be fully deployed 13 days after launch, around Jan. 7, and will reach its final orbit 29.5 days after launch. Next, the observatory will undergo five months of commissioning to prepare its instruments and mirror for science work, which is expected to begin in the summer of 2022.