The JWST is finally in orbit after 14 years of development. The space telescope is now the biggest and most powerful ever launched into space. At 7:20 a.m. EST, the rocket lifted off from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, South America (12:20 GMT).
3.5 minutes after launch, the telescope encountered the vacuum of space. The launch vehicle was left behind about a half-hour later, the solar panels unfurled, and the space telescope began its long journey to its final orbit.
JWST will not be in a low-Earth orbit like Hubble, but rather at the Sun-Earth system’s second Lagrangian Point (or L2). That is a unique location in space 1.5 million kilometers (932,000 miles) directly behind our planet, and an object placed there will orbit the Sun with the Earth without falling behind.
The position is far beyond the Moon’s orbit. In fact, JWST will pass through its orbit in just three days, which is slightly faster than the Apollo missions. That’s a quarter of the way to L2. The entire journey to orbit, including slowing down, will take about a month.
NASA has dubbed it the “29 Days on Edge.” The telescope has 300 single-point failure items that must all function in order for the entire telescope to function. We can’t go back up there and fix it later or upgrade it like we did with Hubble until 2009. Everything must function properly from the start.
The sunshields that will cool the telescope will be unfurled during the first week. The telescope structures will unfold and prepare over the course of 29 days, but they won’t be operational until they cool down to low and stable temperatures. The telescope will then be tested and calibrated for its science mission, which will begin in the middle of next year, over the next five months.
JWST will be a game changer. Its incredible power will push our astronomical knowledge to new heights, exploring everything from exoplanets to the farthest reaches of the universe. We’ll learn a lot more about the things we already know, and we’ll definitely learn a lot about things we don’t know yet.
NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Canadian Space Agency collaborated on the observatory. It was initially dubbed the Next Generation Space Telescope before being renamed after James Webb, a former NASA administrator during the early Apollo years.
No products found.