If you felt a little more tension – and perhaps more goosebumps — in the Universe today, it’s probably because the James Webb Space Telescope’s sunshield is now completely and successfully deployed! All five layers of the sunshield have been fully extended and “tensioned” into the final taut, kite-shaped configuration. This is a huge accomplishment (and huge relief) for the entire international Webb mission
“This has been many years in the making, and is a really big moment for the entire team,” said the JWST mission operations manager after the final events to tension and latch the sunshield were confirmed. “There’s nothing cooler in space than JWST!”
After a detailed analysis of where the James Webb Space Telescope is now (Dec. 29, 2021) and how it got there, NASA determined the observatory should have enough propellant to operate in space for significantly more than 10 years in space.
Webb’s mission lifetime was designed to be at least 5-1/2 years, and mission engineers and scientists were hoping for closer to 10 years.
UPDATE: Shortly after publication of this article, Arianespace announced the launch for JWST has been delayed until December 25:
“Due to adverse weather conditions at Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana, the flight #VA256 to launch the James Webb Space Telescope –initially scheduled for December 24– is being postponed,” Arianespace said via Twitter. “Tomorrow evening, local time, another weather forecast will be issued in order to confirm the date of December 25. The #Ariane5 launch vehicle and Webb are in stable and safe conditions in the Final Assembly Building.”
Earlier today, NASA and ESA announced that the James Webb Space Telescope has cleared one of the final hurdles before launch. The telescope passed the final launch readiness review, meaning that all the hardware and software for the spacecraft and the Ariane 5 rocket are ready for flight. This officially greenlights the liftoff.
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!
It’s been a long and winding road getting the James Webb Space Telescope from concept to reality. And finally, after decades of planning, work, delays, and cost overruns, the next generation of space telescopes is finally ready to launch. But even now, as the telescope might be secretly traveling by cargo ship to the European Space Agency (ESA) launch site in French Guiana, everyone involved with the JWST project knows a successful launch isn’t the final victory.
In reality, post launch is when the real nail-biting begins. While the Mars rover teams undergo “Seven Minutes of Terror” to land their spacecraft on the Red Planet, the JWST teams will have more than 30 days of excruciating, slow-motion terror as the telescope embarks on its month-long-day, 1.5-million-kilometer (million-mile) journey out to the second Lagrange point (L2).
You may have heard this one before, but encouraging news comes from NASA, ESA, and Arianespace today: they are now targeting December 18, 2021 as the new launch date for the oft-delayed James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).
Finally, it’s starting to get real for the James Webb Space Telescope. Engineers are now preparing the long-awaited landmark telescope for transport to its launch site at Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana.
Officials from NASA and ESA this acknowledged the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope will very likely be delayed from the end of October to at least mid-November, 2021. As we reported last month, the usually reliable Ariane 5 has experienced problems on two previous launches where unexpected vehicle accelerations occurred when the fairing separated from the rocket. The fairing is the nose cone used to protect a spacecraft payload during launch and acceleration through Earth’s atmosphere.
“Indeed, there was an anomaly which has been mentioned recently in the media,” said Daniel de Chambure, acting head of Ariane 5 adaptations, during a media briefing on JWST. “The origin of the problem has been found; corrective actions have been taken.”