NASA’s largest, most powerful, and complex space telescope ever built will be launched into orbit on Dec. 18, 2021. Sometimes known as JWST or Webb, this NASA’s $10 billion space telescope will alter our understanding of the universe.
The new target launch date is set in coordination with Arianespace after Webb recently and completed its rigorous testing regimen. The new date also follows Arianespace successfully launching an Ariane 5 rocket in late July and scheduling a launch that will precede Webb. The July launch was the first for an Ariane 5 since August 2020.
The Webb will launch on an Ariane 5 from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana on the northeastern coast of South America.
The JWST is an orbiting infrared observatory that will complement and extend the discoveries of the Hubble Space Telescope. It features more extended wavelength coverage and greatly improved sensitivity.
Thanks to its longer wavelength, the Webb can look closer to the beginning time of the universe while exploring the unobserved formation of the first galaxies. It will also look inside dust clouds where stars and planetary systems are forming today.
Webb will have an approximately 6.5-meter diameter primary mirror, which would give it a significantly larger collecting area than the mirrors available on the current generation of space telescopes.
Webb will not orbit the Earth – instead, it will sit at the Earth-Sun L2 Lagrange point, 1.5 million km away! At the L2 point, Webb’s solar shield will block the light from the Sun, Earth, and Moon. This will help Webb stay cool, which is very important for an infrared telescope.
For now, the complex space telescope is resting in its final stow configuration at Northrop Grumman’s facilities in Redondo Beach, California.
Gregory L. Robinson, Webb’s program director at NASA Headquarters in Washington, said, “Webb is an exemplary mission that signifies the epitome of perseverance. I am inspired by our dedicated team and our global partnerships that have made this incredible endeavor possible. Together, we’ve overcome technical obstacles along the way as well as challenges during the coronavirus pandemic. I also am grateful for the steadfast support of Congress. Now that we have an observatory and a rocket ready for launch, I am looking forward to the big day and the amazing science to come.”