It’s a 20-year time in the making: NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has reached the launch site. From there, it will put a rocket into orbit and then fly past the moon. It is the most powerful (and expensive) telescope humanity has ever built, and it is almost ready to reveal the mysteries of the cosmos. Well, not all of them, but it will surely be based on the knowledge that we have obtained from Hubble.
The Webb telescope will be launched from the European Space Agency (ESA) French Guiana spaceport. Several weeks ago, NASA announced that it had completed all engineering work on the spacecraft. The team prepared the hardware for shipment from California and put it on a ship to take it through the Panama Canal to South America. There, the precious cargo will be attached to an Ariane 5 rocket for launch.
The Webb telescope was initially supposed to cost around $ 500 million, but that was in the late 1990s. Over time, countless inconveniences and delays have caused the cost to skyrocket to around $ 10 billion, twenty times the cost. original budget. Changes have come especially fast in the past year, thanks in part to the challenges introduced by the COVID-19 pandemic. There have been multiple launch dates scheduled for Webb in 2021, but delays have pushed it back to December 18. That gives NASA and ESA some time to prepare the telescope.
When implemented, Webb will be about the size of a tennis court. However, it has been cleverly designed to fit within the 5.4 meter diameter of the Ariane 5 rocket. Parts of the mirror and sunscreen will need to unfold once the spacecraft reaches the second Earth-Sun Lagrange Point (L2) at approximately a million miles (1.5 million kilometers) away. That means everything has to go perfectly – no one will be able to go out and complete a Hubble-style service mission.
The next step is for the spaceport team to go through the hardware in excruciating detail. Meanwhile, components for the Ariane 5 will arrive from Europe for assembly in the launch vehicle integration building. Once attached to the rocket, technicians will use a special curtain to cover the telescope inside a clean room. The room itself will also have additional filters installed to further protect the telescope.
If all goes according to plan, Webb should leave Earth behind for good on December 18. It will take about a month to reach L2 and deploy. We will all be on the edge of our seats until it is officially online.