Science

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope to Launch Officially Dec. 24

NASA’s newest flagship observatory is about to start an incredible journey and now has an official launch date.

The James Webb Space Telescope is expected to launch in a week, on December 24 at 7:20 a.m. EST (1220 GMT or 9:20 a.m. local time in French Guiana), and has been packed inside the nose cone. of his Ariane. 5 rockets for the trip.

“Late yesterday, crews at the launch site successfully completed encapsulation of the observatory within the Ariane 5 rocket that will launch it into space,” NASA officials wrote in an update today (December 18). The news comes as NASA and Arianespace, the maker of the Ariane 5, worked to fix a data cable problem that delayed the mission from a December 22 launch target.

A final launch readiness review will take place on Tuesday (December 21) to make sure the Webb Space Telescope is ready for launch. If so, your Ariane 5 rocket will launch to the launch pad at the Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana on Wednesday.

Live Updates: NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope Launch

Agency officials view Webb as the successor to the venerable Hubble space telescope, meaning Webb has a huge mandate to fulfill. Hubble’s front-line science includes showing that the universe is accelerating in expansion, finding new moons around Pluto, and helping to build three-dimensional maps of dark matter.

With the $ 9.8 billion Webb set to take over after years of development delays, scientists expect the telescope to go even further back in time. The telescope will travel to an isolated location about 1 million miles (1.6 million kilometers) from Earth known as the Lagrange point, a gravitationally stable place between two celestial bodies.

There, away from the interference of light from Earth, Webb will direct his attention to the early universe, the atmospheres of exoplanets and other sciences using a deployable telescope almost 22 feet (21.6 meters) wide, about three times the width. opening of the nineties era. Hubble (8 feet or 2.4 meters). With more openness available, Webb will collect more light and more details on heavenly destinations.

An artist’s illustration of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope in space. (Image credit: ESA)

Webb has overcome numerous technical challenges, budget inflation and cancellation threats during its complex development, including the unexpected last-minute release of a clamp that delayed the launch for a few more days.

The Atlantic notes that the scope of the original project required Webb to fly in 2007 with a budget of $ 500 million (approximately $ 667 million in 2021 dollars), but technological advancements and unforeseen difficulties contributed to the delays. (The pandemic also affected the calendar in 2020).

This means that Webb’s budget trajectory also followed in the footsteps of Hubble, which launched over budget and later than expected. Hubble is also famous for accidentally going into space with a faulty mirror, which required a crew of astronauts to repair it. Webb will be too far away for that help, but NASA has said prime contractor Northrop Grumman tested all systems thoroughly before launch.

James Webb Space Telescope refueling for launch. (Image credit: ESA / CNES / Arianespace)

The Webb telescope’s name has also come under fire, reports indicate. The nickname is meant to honor James Webb, the second NASA administrator who ran the agency from 1961 to 1968 as he prepared for human landing missions. Critics of the administrator say he was complicit in discrimination against gay and lesbian NASA employees during his tenure, including incidents such as the firing of Clifford Norton for “immoral conduct” in 1963.

But with the generational observatory finally on the eve of launch, NASA hopes all the effort will pay off. “It will explore all phases of cosmic history, from the interior of our solar system to the most distant observable galaxies in the early universe, and everything in between,” the agency said in a November blog post about the mission. . “Webb will reveal new and unexpected discoveries and help humanity understand the origins of the universe and our place in it.”

Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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