A New Window on the Universe:
The James Webb Space Telescope is Ready to Launch

After years of planning and testing, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is finally nearing its launch date. The telescope is named for James E. Webb, who was the administrator of NASA from 1961 to 1968 and played a pivotal role in the Apollo program to land humans on the Moon. 
JWST is an international collaboration between NASA and its partners, the European Space Agency, and the Canadian Space Agency.  

The JWST is scheduled to be launched on December 22, 2021, using an Ariane 5 rocket. The Ariane 5 is a space launch vehicle developed and operated by Arianespace for the European Space Agency. It is launched from The Guiana Space Center in French Guiana, South America. 

Imagery of future Ariane 5 launch, Photo Credit: ESA

The primary mirror on the JWST is 21.3 feet across when fully deployed. This mirror is too wide to fit into the Ariane 5 fairing in one piece, so it is segmented into 18 hexagonal pieces on a hinged structure so it can fold up for launch and unfold in space. It will be the largest mirror ever flown into space. There are four main science instruments: Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam), Near-Infrared Spectrograph (NIRSpec), Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI), and Near-Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph (NIRISS) with the Fine Guidance Sensor (FGS). 

The JWST will provide improved infrared resolution and sensitivity over the Hubble Space Telescope. It will enable a broad range of investigations across many different fields of astronomy and cosmology. The JWST will observe in a lower frequency range, from long-wavelength visible light through mid-infrared. This will allow observations of objects that are too old and too distant for Hubble to observe. JWST will be able to observe some of the most distant events and objects in the universe, such as the formation of the first galaxies. It will also be able to provide detailed atmospheric characterizations of potentially habitable exoplanets.  

The James Webb Space Telescope has four main goals: to search for light from the first stars and galaxies that formed in the Universe after the Big Bang, to study the formation and evolution of galaxies, to understand the formation of stars and planetary systems and to study planetary systems and the origins of life. 

The JWST will operate approximately 930,000 miles beyond Earth’s orbit. Unlike the Hubble Space Telescope, the JWST is not designed to be serviced or repaired. It has a planned mission duration of ten years. 

After launching from French Guiana, the JWST will undergo six months of commissioning in space, including unfolding its mirrors, sunshield, and other smaller systems; cooling down; aligning; and calibrating. Astronomers worldwide will then be able to conduct scientific observations and start collecting data. 

If everything goes as planned, the James Webb Space Telescope is poised to revolutionize astronomy in a way that has not been seen since the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope in 1990.