KOUROU, FRENCH GUIANA  - DECEMBER 25: In this handout image provided by the U.S. National Aeronatics and Space Administration (NASA), Arianespace's Ariane 5 rocket launches with NASA's James Webb Space Telescope onboard, from the ELA-3 Launch Zone of Europes Spaceport at the Guiana Space Centre at Europes Spaceport, at the Guiana Space Center on December 25, 2021, in Kourou, French Guiana. The James Webb Space Telescope (sometimes called JWST or Webb) is a large infrared telescope with a 21.3 foot (6.5 meter) primary mirror. The observatory will study every phase of cosmic history from within our solar system to the most distant observable galaxies in the early universe. (Photo by Chris Gunn/NASA via Getty Images)
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The Reason the James Webb Space Telescope Doesn't Have Cameras
Although NASA’s James Webb does have science cameras – like its Near Infrared Camera (NIRCam) instrument which will collect highly detailed infrared images of the universe – it doesn't have any deployment cameras. The basic reason for that is the environment in which the telescope operates.
According to Julie Van Campen, deputy commissioning manager for the telescope, Webb doesn't have extra cameras since there weren't many small, rugged and affordable cameras available when Webb was being first developed. Trying to find a camera that could withstand the harsh conditions of space, such as cold temperatures, would also have been a challenge.
The other problem is one of light, as having to add lights to illuminate the telescope in the dark of space would be potentially hazardous to the delicate instruments. Van Campen noted, "We would have problems if we wanted to do flash photography, obviously. Our mirrors are very sensitive. Our optics inside are very sensitive, and most importantly, [so are] our detectors all the way deep inside of our instruments."
Webb is designed to have only one side of it face the sun – the side which is protected by the telescope's giant sunshield and is so shiny that any camera there would have to deal with serious glare issues. Finally, one last issue is to do with the way Webb had to unfurl as the telescope was folded up to fit inside a rocket for its launch, then it had to be carefully deployed while it was in space.
It meant that many parts of it had to move around, so cameras could have gotten in the way. Paul Geithner, deputy project manager – technical for the Webb telescope at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, stated that “adding cameras to watch an unprecedently complicated deployment of such a precious spacecraft as Webb” is “not as straightforward as adding a doorbell cam or even a rocket cam.”