Shortly after 9 a.m. EST today (December 30, 2021), the Webb team completed deployment of the observatory’s aft momentum flap. In a process that took about eight minutes, engineers released the flap’s hold-down devices, and a spring brought the flap into its final position.
The aft momentum flap helps minimize the fuel engineers will need to use throughout Webb’s lifetime, by helping to maintain the observatory’s orientation in orbit. As photons of sunlight hit the large sunshield surface, they will exert pressure on the sunshield, and if not properly balanced, this solar pressure would cause rotations of the observatory that must be accommodated by its reaction wheels. The aft momentum flap will sail on the pressure of these photons, balancing the sunshield and keeping the observatory steady.
Just as a ship’s mast must be set in position and the rigging established before the ship unfurls its sails, Webb’s pallet structures, momentum flap, and mid-booms will soon all be in place for Webb’s silver sunshield to unfold. The next steps in Webb’s planned deployment timeline are outlined here.