NASA's James Webb Space Telescope team has successfully deployed its 21-foot, gold-coated primary mirror, completing the final stage of all major spacecraft deployments to prepare for science operations in deeper space.
A joint effort with the European Space Agency (ESA) and Canadian Space Agency, the Webb mission will explore every phase of cosmic history -- from within our solar system to the most distant observable galaxies in the early universe.
"NASA achieved another engineering milestone decades in the making. While the journey is not complete, I join the Webb team in breathing a little easier and imagining the future breakthroughs bound to inspire the world," said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson.
"The James Webb Space Telescope is an unprecedented mission that is on the precipice of seeing the light from the first galaxies and discovering the mysteries of our universe," he said in a statement late on Saturday.
The two wings of Webb's primary mirror had been folded to fit inside the nose cone of an Arianespace Ariane 5 rocket prior to launch.
After more than a week of other critical spacecraft deployments, the Webb team began remotely unfolding the hexagonal segments of the primary mirror, the largest ever launched into space.
The world's largest and most complex space science telescope will now begin moving its 18 primary mirror segments to align the telescope optics.
"Webb's successful deployment exemplifies the best of what NASA has to offer: the willingness to attempt bold and challenging things in the name of discoveries still unknown," said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate in NASA Headquarters in Washington.
Soon, Webb will also undergo a third mid-course correction burn -- one of three planned to place the telescope precisely in orbit around the second Lagrange point, commonly known as L2, nearly 1 million miles from Earth.
This is Webb's final orbital position, where its sunshield will protect it from light from the Sun, Earth, and Moon that could interfere with observations of infrared light.
Webb is designed to peer back over 13.5 billion years to capture infrared light from celestial objects, with much higher resolution than ever before, and to study our own solar system as well as distant worlds.