The sunshield will be permanently positioned between NASA's Webb telescope and the Sun, Earth and Moon, ensuring the observatory is kept in the shade as it completes its mission.

Unfurling the telescope's sunshield in space is a complex and challenging task, the most daunting such deployment NASA has ever attempted.
Unfurling the telescope's sunshield in space is a complex and challenging task, the most daunting such deployment NASA has ever attempted. (Reuters)

The James Webb Space Telescope has fully deployed its five-layer sunshield, a critical milestone for the success of its mission to study every phase of cosmic history.

US space agency NASA made the announcement in a live feed on Tuesday.

"All five layers of the sunshield are fully tensioned," said an announcer at the telescope's control centre in Baltimore, where team members cheered.

The tennis court size, kite-shaped apparatus acts like a parasol, ensuring the observatory is kept in the shade so that it is able to detect faint infrared signals from the far reaches of the Universe.

Each of the layers was unfolded one by one over two days.

Because the telescope was too large to fit into a rocket's nose cone in its operational configuration, it had to be transported folded, origami style. 

Unfurling is a complex and challenging task, the most daunting such deployment NASA has ever attempted.

"When I get asked what keeps you up the most at night, it's the sunshield deployment," Bill Ochs, project manager for Webb, told reporters ahead of the operation.

READ MORE: Move over Hubble, the James Webb Space Telescope is here

Most powerful space telescope

The most powerful space telescope ever built, Webb blasted off on December 25, and is now more than halfway to its orbital point, 1.5 million kilometres (a million miles) from Earth.

Powerful enough to see the first stars and galaxies that formed 13.5 billion years ago, it will give astronomers new insight into the early Universe. 

Its mission also includes the study of distant planets to determine their origin, evolution, and habitability.

The sunshield will be permanently positioned between the telescope and the Sun, Earth and Moon, with the Sun-facing side built to withstand 110 degrees Celsius (230 degrees Fahrenheit).

Each successive layer is cooler than the one below, allowing the telescope's sensitive instruments to operate at minus 223 degrees Celsius (minus 370 degrees Fahrenheit).

It is made of lightweight material called Kapton, coated with treated silicon. It also has special "ripstop" seaming to limit damage from meteoroids.

READ MORE: World's most powerful telescope blasts off into space

Source: TRTWorld and agencies