BALTIMORE (WJZ) — The Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore will serve as the mission operations center for the James Webb Space Telescope. The infrared telescope is set to launch Dec. 18 from French Guiana.

“I won’t breathe a sigh of relief until we’re operational, about 180 days after launch,” said Bill Ochs, project manager for the telescope.

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The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) was built largely in Greenbelt, Md., at the Goddard Space Flight Center.

JWST is expected to serve as the premier observatory over at least the next decade. It will begin orbit early next year 1 million miles from Earth, about four times farther than the moon.

“We’re not going to be orbiting the earth. James Webb will operate around the Sun-Earth second Lagrange point,” said NASA mission systems engineer Mike Menzel.

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The observatory will stand about three stories tall, weighs six metric tons, and the sun shield alone is the size of a tennis court. To fit inside the rocket, it must fold up. The telescope will need to deploy once in orbit.

“Rebuild it. Realign it. Re-tune it. And, it get it to work robotically on orbit. That’s never been done before,” Menzel said. “It has to perform some of the most complex sequence of deployments ever attempted.”

In all, there are 344 so-called “single-point failure” possibilities just in deployment.

“They’re all single-point failures,” spacecraft systems engineer lead Krystal Puga said. “They all need to work perfectly in order to release the sun shield.”

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To learn more about JWST, click here.

Paul Gessler