Nasa nails trickiest job on newly launched space telescope

Nasa has successfully completed the most complicated and critical job on its newly launched space telescope: unrolling and stretching a sunshade the size of a tennis court.

Ground controllers cheered and bumped fists once the fifth and final layer of the sunshield was tightly secured.

It took one and a half days to tighten the ultra-thin layers using motor-driven cables, half the expected time.

The seven-ton James Webb Space Telescope is so big that the sunshield and the primary gold-plated mirror had to be folded for launch.

The sunshield is especially unwieldly — it spans 70ft by 46ft to keep all the infrared, heat-sensing science instruments in constant sub-zero shadow.

The mirrors are next up for release this weekend.

The 10 billion dollar (£7.4 billion) telescope is more than halfway towards its destination a million miles away, following its Christmas Day send-off.

It is the biggest and most powerful observatory ever launched — 100 times more powerful than the Hubble Space Telescope — enabling it to peer back to almost the beginning of time.

SCIENCE Telescope
(PA Graphics)

“This is a really big moment,” project manager Bill Ochs told the control team in Baltimore. “We’ve still got a lot of work to do, but getting the sunshield out and deployed is really, really big.”

Engineers spent years tweaking the shade. At one point, dozens of fasteners fell off during a vibration test. That made Tuesday’s success all the sweeter, since nothing like this had ever been attempted before in space.

“First time and we nailed it,” engineer Alphonso Stewart told reporters.

Jersey Evening Post