Huffington Post UK  |  Posted:  |  Updated: 23/01/14 GMT

NASA Pics Reveal How The James Webb Telescope Is Being Built (BIG PICTURES)

Nasa, the European Space Agency, and the Canadian Space Agency are currently building the James Webb Space Telescope, the successor to Hubble and one of the most powerful astronomical instruments ever conceived.

When complete, the telescope will have a 21-feet-high mirror and 18 smaller hexagonal mirrors with which to explore the sky -- and perhaps even bring us our first true images of planets outside our own solar system.

While it is not scheduled to head into space until at least 2018, Nasa is among the agencies constantly updating keen observers on its progress. In a batch of new images published over the New Year it gave us some new insights into how the telescope is being built, and what it will look like once it's done.

The James Webb team recently gave this full account of their recent progress, while The Verge has this readable summary of the mission's aims and achievements so far.

Meanwhile here are some of the most stunning images published ahead of the mission's eventual lift off, with some details about how the machinery pictured will lead to even more spectacular images - and science - in the relatively near future.

All captions and pics by NASA.

  • NASA
    EADS Astrium engineers are seen in this image routing a cable for an acoustic test for one of the James Webb Space Telescope's scientific instruments
  • NASA
    The robotic arm lifts and lowers a golden James Webb Space Telescope flight spare primary mirror segment onto a test piece of backplane
  • NASA
    The James Webb Space Telescope's team welcomed back the "heart" of the observatory, known as the Integrated Science Instrument Module or ISIM, to the world's largest clean room
  • NASA
    Goddard Technicians Tony Kiem (left) and George Mooney (right) guide the craned structure holding the Webb telescope's Mid-Infrared Instrument (or MIRI) Shield Environmental Test Unit into place in a cryogenic (cooling) test chamber.
  • NASA
    Dressed in a clean room suit, NASA photographer Desiree Stover shines a light on the Space Environment Simulator's Integration Frame inside the thermal vacuum chamber at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
  • NASA
    This is the James Webb Space Telescope ETU (engineering test unit) primary mirror segment returning to the cleanroom at NASA Goddard after undergoing some tests at our new Calibration, Integration, and Alignment Facility (CIAF).
  • NASA
    Marking a huge mission milestone for the James Webb Space Telescope, the last three of the 18 flight primary mirror segments arrived at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., on Dec. 16, 2013.
  • NASA
    This shiny silver "waterfall" is actually the five layers of the full-scale engineering model of NASA's James Webb Space Telescope sunshield.
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