JWST Pointing Performance

JWST's in-orbit predicted performance for slewing accuracy and pointing stability are based on structural, thermal, and optical models. Actual values will be obtained during commissioning activities. 

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See also: JWST Slew Times and Overheads

The spacecraft's attitude control system (ACS) controls the pointing and slewing of JWST. This page summarizes the predicted pointing performance, based on structural, thermal, and optical models of the JWST Observatory Hardware. Actual performance will be characterized after launch during the commissioning period.

Definitions and units

Pointing accuracy is expressed as the 1-σ uncertainty per axis, meaning the 2 orthogonal axes in the plane of the sky.  However, the 1-σ radial uncertainty is larger than the per-axis uncertainty by a factor of 1.52, assuming a Rayleigh criterion. (A Rayleigh criterion is more appropriate when the overall magnitude of a vector is related to its directional components.)  This is usually more relevant to users. In either case, the units are arcseconds or milliarcseconds (mas).  

Absolute pointing accuracy

The absolute fine pointing accuracy, without a science target acquisition, is expected to be 0.10" (1-σ error, per axis).  This uncertainty is dominated by guide star catalog position errors and pointing errors due to roll control.  Applying the Rayleigh criterion, the 1-σ radial uncertainty is thus 0.152".

Target acquisitions, which are needed for spectrographic fixed slits, coronagraphic observations, and in some cases IFUs (depending on the desired accuracy of source placement within the IFU field of view) will further refine the pointing to the level of accuracy for offset slews, as shown in Table 1.

Pointing stability

For fixed targets, the pointing stability is evaluated as the root-mean-square (RMS) error in the guide star position in any 15 s interval, compared to the mean position over a 10,000 s observation. The predicted stability varies slightly from instrument to instrument, from 6.0 mas (NIRCam and NIRISS) to 6.7 mas (MIRI), 1-σ error per axis. The pointing stability includes several forms of "image motion" that determine the overall optical image quality and the telescope point spread function. 

For Solar System (i.e., moving) targets, the line-of-sight pointing stability is evaluated as the RMS mean over a 1,000 s observation, for a linear rate of motion of 3.0 mas/s. This is estimated to be 6.2 to 6.7 mas, 1-σ per axis, depending on the instrument. This is much better than the required stability (16.7 mas, 1-σ per axis). At the maximum permitted rate of motion, 30 mas/s, models indicate that the pointing stability will be very similar to the slower 3.0 mas/s case.

Offset slew accuracy

Instrument field-of-view offsets, after guide star reacquisition, are predicted to be very accurate, generally less than 5 mas, 1-σ, per axis. This type of offset is used for dithers and target acquisitions.

Table 1. Offset angle uncertainties

Offset angle (arcseconds)Uncertainty (mas, 1-σ, per axis)Uncertainty (mas, 1-σ, radial)

Latest updates
  •  Added explanatory text for multiple axes.

    In "Definitions and Units," conversion between 1-σ uncertainty per axis and 1-σ radial uncertainty is 1.52, not 1.41.

  • Added radial uncertainties
Originally published