An anxiety-ridden launch that’s been decades in the making
The James Webb Space Telescope, or JWST, is intended to be the successor to NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, which is already in orbit around Earth. And it has the potential to completely change the way we study the universe.
The launch of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, which is designed to peer further into the universe than ever before, has been postponed until Christmas Day at the earliest due to poor weather at the launch site on South America’s northeastern coast, the space agency announced on Tuesday.
According to NASA, the 24-hour weather delay at Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana follows a two-day postponement from an earlier Dec. 22 targeted launch window due to electronic communications difficulties between the launch vehicle and its payload.
On December 17, the powerful infrared telescope was encapsulated inside the cargo bay of an Ariane 5 rocket. The rocket is now set to launch between 7:20 a.m. and 8:20 a.m. as well as 7:52 a.m. Saturday, 12:20-12:53 p.m. EST (12:20-12:53 p.m. GMT).
If everything goes as planned, the $9 billion instrument will be released from the rocket after a 26-minute journey into space. The Webb telescope will then take a month to coast to its destination in solar orbit, approximately 1 million miles from Earth – roughly four times the distance from the moon.
Webb’s 30-year-old predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope, orbits the Earth from a distance of 340 miles.
Webb, named after NASA’s chief during the majority of the 1960s, is approximately 100 times more sensitive than Hubble and is expected to revolutionize astronomers’ understanding of the universe and our place in it.
Webb will primarily observe the universe in the infrared spectrum, allowing it to peer through clouds of gas and dust where stars are born, whereas Hubble has primarily observed the universe in the optical and ultraviolet wavelengths.
The new telescope’s primary mirror, made up of 18 hexagonal segments of gold-coated beryllium metal, also has a much larger light-collecting area than Hubble, allowing it to observe objects at greater distances and thus farther back in time.
This advancement, according to astronomers, will reveal a previously unseen view of the cosmos – dating back only 100 million years after the Big Bang, the theoretical flashpoint that set in motion the expansion of the observable universe an estimated 13.8 billion years ago.
Webb’s instruments also make it ideal for searching for potentially life-sustaining atmospheres around a slew of newly discovered exoplanets – celestial bodies orbiting distant stars – as well as studying worlds much closer to home, like Mars and Saturn’s icy moon Titan.
The telescope is the result of an international collaboration led by NASA in collaboration with European and Canadian space agencies. The primary contractor was Northrop Grumman Corp (NOC.N). The European contribution includes the Ariane launch vehicle.
This article is originally published by Reuters. Minor edits were made.