JWST reached the second Sun-Earth Lagrange point, or L2, one month after launch, and Webb will follow a "halo" course around the sun, keeping it in alignment with Earth but out of its shadow. The L2 orbit enables continuous radio communication while simultaneously providing continuous sunlight to Webb's solar-power array.
According to Keith Parrish, the Observatory Manager for the James Webb Space Telescope at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, the observatory's thruster will need to be fired once every three weeks to keep it on course.
The telescope's primary mirror, a collection of 18 hexagonal gold-coated beryllium metal segments spanning 21 feet 4 inches (6.5 meters), will be tuned next. Webb's detectors make it ideal for scanning for clues of potentially life-supporting atmospheres near newly discovered exoplanets, and planets such Mars and Saturn's ice moon Titan.
After Webb's launch on Dec. 25, the 18 segments of its main mirror were unfolded together with the rest of the observatory's structural components during a two-week period. The telescope will be focused at HD-84406, a faint star in the Ursa Major (Big Dipper) constellation.
According to Lee Feinberg, manager of the Webb optical telescope element at Goddard, Engineers will then gradually tune Webb's mirror segments to "stack" 18 separate reflections of the star into a single, focused image.
The telescope's infrared construction is sensitive to heat, so alignment will begin next week once it has cooled down to 400 degrees below zero Fahrenheit in orbit (-240 Celsius).
In June, NASA will make public its "early release observations," a collection of initial images used to demonstrate the proper functioning of JWST's instruments during its commissioning phase and it is Webb's most ambitious work.