Don Lee: Replacing a telescope, getting back to the moon

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 18, 2020

We will explore some coming space events.The James Webb Space Telescope, which NASA expects to replace the Hubble Telescope, is a coming soon.
It is named for James E. Webb who was the administrator for NASA from 1961 to 1968 during the time preparing for the Apollo program, this is an ambitious project by NASA and it has been underway for many years.

The manufacturers are Northrop Grumman and Ball Aerospace. It has a mirror, which is made up of 18 segments of gold-plated beryllium, giving it a surface of about 273 square feet, which is six times as large as the Hubble Telescope. The mirror installation was completed in March 2016.

NASA is planning to view very distant galaxies, back in time, using near-infrared light. To do this it needs to be very cold, which doesn’t sound like a big problem in outer space, but they are providing a shield to keep the sun radiation from heating it. The shield is over 3,000 square feet of surface and is no thicker than a human hair.

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The telescope needs to be at 370 degrees F for the near-infrared radiation detection compared to the Hubble that operates at 59 degrees F. Astronomers hope to be able to look at light that originated billions of years ago.

It will be placed at what is called the L2 Lagrangian point, beyond the moon orbit where the telescope will be in a stable obit. That is way out, it will take 14 days to get there.

Can you imagine assembling 18 mirror segments about 300 thousand miles from the earth? There have been many setbacks and delays resulting in cost overruns as usual.

The current planned launch date is April 2021. A practice deployment of the sun shield in March 2018 caused it to rip apart. The pandemic of the COVID-19 is causing more delays. The whole world’s time table has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now, if you have read this, you know more about the James Webb telescope than you ever wanted to know.

The radio astronomers are wanting to use the Artemis moon landing project to build a radio telescope on the back side of the moon. They say that the earth-bound radio telescopes are beset with radio and cell phone interference.

For example, the area around the Green Bank, West Virginia, there is as steerable radio telescope and it is the only place in the world where it is illegal to use a cell phone. The Artemis project has a goal of landing the first woman and a man again on the moon.

The planned date for the first landing will be in 2024 and I understand that robotic equipment will be sent for the first landing to prepare a site for the human landings.

Incidentally, the Artemis name is the Greek mythological name of Apollo’s twin sister, which seems appropriate since the women are going along, this time.

Don Lee, a pilot flying out of Lawrence County Airport since 1970, has been in charge of equipment and grounds maintenance for the last several years. He can be reached at