Webb has Arrived Safely at the Launch Site

Whew! A major milestone was achieved today in the James Webb Space Telescope’s journey towards launch. After the telescope successfully arrived in French Guiana yesterday following a secretive 16-day ocean journey (with apparently no pirates in sight), today the telescope took a short road trip over land to the ESA’s spaceport in Kourou. JWST is now at the payload processing facility, where staff will start the process of getting the telescope into the Ariane 5 rocket fairing.

Launch is currently scheduled for December 18, 2021 … T-66 days and counting!

JWST was shipped in a specially built French vessel named the MN Colibri, designed to transport aerospace components, with the telescope inside a water-tight chamber the size of a football field. A specialized freight company, Rohde and Liesenfeld oversaw the transport, beginning with moving the container and telescope from Northrup Grumman’s facilities, through Southern California’s freeway system to the ship, docked by Huntington Beach, CA.

JWST inside the specialized, airtight shipping container. Image courtesy Rohde and Liesenfeld.

The massive clean air chamber was built so JWST would not be exposed to vibrations, any excessive G forces of acceleration and deceleration, the rolling or pitching on the water due to sea swell or wind, or excessive temperatures.

The 9,300 km (5,800-mile) sea voyage took Webb from California through the Panama Canal to Port de Pariacabo on the Kourou River in French Guiana, on the northeastern coast of South America.

The space observatory will now begin two months of operational preparations before its launch on an Ariane 5 rocket. After launch, hopefully its next “stop” will be 1.5-million-kilometers (1 million miles) away at the second Lagrange point (L2), after 30 days of travel, which includes the unfolding of the primary mirror and sunshield, as well as turning on all the instruments.

JWST’s deployment timeline. Credit: ESA

Related: JWST’s 30 Days of Terror

“Webb’s arrival at the launch site is a momentous occasion,” said Gregory Robinson, Webb’s program director at NASA Headquarters, in a statement. “We are very excited to finally send the world’s next great observatory into deep space. Webb has crossed the country and traveled by sea. Now it will take its ultimate journey by rocket one million miles from Earth, to capture stunning images of the first galaxies in the early universe that are certain to transform our understanding of our place in the cosmos.”

At the spaceport, engineers will run final checks on the observatory’s systems. Configuring the spacecraft for flight includes loading the propellants on JWST itself, before Webb is mounted on top of the rocket and enclosed in the fairing for launch.

Once operational, Webb will reveal insights about all phases of cosmic history, looking back to the universe’s first stars and galaxies, searching for signs of potential habitability among the thousands of exoplanets that have been discovered in recent years, as well as zooming in on objects in our own Solar System.

Nancy Atkinson

Nancy has been with Universe Today since 2004, and has published over 6,000 articles on space exploration, astronomy, science and technology. She is the author of two books: "Eight Years to the Moon: the History of the Apollo Missions," (2019) which shares the stories of 60 engineers and scientists who worked behind the scenes to make landing on the Moon possible; and "Incredible Stories from Space: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Missions Changing Our View of the Cosmos" (2016) tells the stories of those who work on NASA's robotic missions to explore the Solar System and beyond. Follow Nancy on Twitter at https://twitter.com/Nancy_A and and Instagram at and https://www.instagram.com/nancyatkinson_ut/

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