NASA Webb Space Telescope Aft Sunshield Pallet Deployed

Webb forward and aft pallet deployment. Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center Conceptual Image Lab

Webb is beginning to resemble the form it will take when it is fully deployed – now that the mission operations team has successfully deployed and latched into place the observatory’s forward and aft Unitized Pallet Structures.

The team began working through the deployment of the forward pallet this morning, concluding at approximately 1:21 p.m. EST. The team then moved on to the aft pallet deployment, completing the process at approximately 7:27 p.m. EST. While the actual motion to lower the forward pallet from its stowed to its deployed position took only 20 minutes, and the lowering of the aft pallet took only 18 minutes, the overall process took several hours for each because of the dozens of additional steps required. These include closely monitoring structural temperatures, maneuvering the observatory with respect to the sun to provide optimal temperatures, turning on heaters to warm key components, activating release mechanisms, configuring electronics and software, and ultimately latching the pallets into place.

The unfolding of the pallets marks the beginning of Webb’s major structural deployments and also the beginning of the sunshield deployment phase – which will continue through at least this Sunday, January 2.

The planned timeline of these deployments is laid out here but could change as the operations team gets deeper into the schedule.