In this day and age where we usually have access to images taken by satellites and rockets at launch, we may wonder why we haven’t seen any from the James Webb Space Telescope. The reason is simple, the new telescope is not equipped with cameras.
There are several reasons for the lack of cameras on the Webb Telescope. According to Julie Van Campen, one of Webb’s managers at NASA’s Goddard Space Center, it’s mostly about light and warmth.
Webb is currently on his way to his observation point about 1.5 million kilometers from Earth. Even though this is a very important mission, engineers cannot rely on any images but just have to use classic telemetry.
Results are more important
According to Van Campen’s explanation, one of the primary reasons for the absence of cameras on board Webb is the fact that portable cameras did not yet exist when we started to develop it. But more importantly, if cameras had been installed on board, it could have negative effects on the very sensitive optical systems of the telescope.
According to Van Campen, if we wanted to have cameras, we would have had to find a solution to be able to use it in complete darkness since that is part of Webb’s working conditions. To get an image, you would need a system to produce light, but using a flash, for example, would only damage the space telescope. Indeed, the mirrors are very sensitive, as well as the optical systems inside, but especially the detectors of scientific instruments.
Beware of interference
Another issue that can arise with the use of cameras onboard Webb is temperature interference. Apart from the dark, Webb must also operate at a very low temperature so as not to affect the infrared observations.
According to Van Campen, at low temperatures, plastic deteriorates, shrinks and cracks can appear. To obtain a device capable of operating at cryogenic temperatures would have required a great deal of research in engineering and design.
In the event that cables are used to heat the cameras, there is a risk that Webb will accidentally start studying the heat signature of these cables.
Arguably having cameras on board Webb was only going to create complications. Let us be satisfied with the data on the Universe that the telescope promises to provide.