The giant NASA Webb telescope succeeds in key pre-launch test

For the last time on Earth on Tuesday, the world's biggest and most powerful space telescope unfolded its massive Golden Mirror, a significant landmark in the run-up to this 10 billion dollar observatory later this year.

The 21-foot-4-inch (6,5.5-metre) mirror of the James Webb Space Telescope was ordered to extend and seal it fully, NASA says – a final test to ensure that its 1,6 million miles (1.6 million km) trip is surviving and is poised to explore the source of the universe.

"It's like making a Swiss 40-feet-high watch – and having it ready for a trip where we take on a 400°F vacuum four times longer than the Moon," Scott Willoughby from the lead contractor, Northrop Grumman, said. "It's a bit like building a Swiss watch.

He spoke at the Redondo Beach, California spaceport from which the telescope is transported to French Guyana to start on an Ariane 5 rocket and NASA aims to be lifted 31 October.

Webb's main mirror consists of 18 hexagonal parts, which are covered with an ultra-thin film of gold to enhance infrared light reflection.

It flies to the room like a piece of origami sculpture, which makes it possible to fit into a 16-foot (5-meter) rocket hammer and then uses a total of 132 individual actuators and motors to bend the mirror to a certain position.

Together, the mirrors would act as a giant reflector, allowing the telescope to see further than ever before into the universe.

Scientists wish to use the telescope to see the first stars and galaxies that emerged, some hundred million years since the Big Bang, more than 13,5 billion years ago.

Infrarot detection is required to do this. Hubble is only small infrared in capacity in the current leading space telescope.

This is key because as the light from the first objects crosses our detectors, as a consequence of the universe expanding space between objects as it extends, it was moved towards the red end of the electromagnetic spectrums.

The exploration of alien worlds will also be a key area. There were the first planets to orbit other stars in the 1990s and over 4,000 exoplanets were now confirmed.

Webb "has tools to push this fascinating new area into the next research epic," says Eric Smith, a scientist at the web telescope.

Scientists from 44 countries will use the telescope with proposals to infiltrate supermassive black holes into, including our own, the core of the galaxies, including infrared power.

"Webb's capabilities for exploration are constrained only by our own imaginations and scientists worldwide will use this observer for general purposes to introduce us to areas we have not heard of before," said Smith.