JWST Delayed Again – But Only For A Few Weeks (Fingers Crossed)

Artist's impression of the JWST, folded in the Ariane 5 rocket during launch from Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana. Image Credit: ESA / D. Ducros

The Hubble Space Telescope's successor, JWST has famously been subjected to many delays over the many, many years since it was meant to first launch. NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), and the Canadian Space Agency have just announced the latest delay but this time it's only a few weeks. The next generation space observatory launch date has been shifted from October 31 to December 18, 2021 (hopefully).

“We now know the day that thousands of people have been working towards for many years, and that millions around the world are looking forward to," Günther Hasinger, ESA Director of Science, said in a statement. "Webb and its Ariane 5 launch vehicle are ready, thanks to the excellent work across all mission partners. We are looking forward to seeing the final preparations for launch at Europe’s Spaceport."

The telescope will be shipped to the launch site by the end of this month. 

Unlike Hubble, JWST won’t be in low-Earth orbit. Instead, it will be located at the second Lagrangian point, a special gravitational location that will keep it moving around the Sun at the same rate as our planet. This stable orbit is located 1.5 million kilometers (932,000 miles) away from Earth.

JWST packed
JWST packed and ready to be shipped. Image Credit: NASA/Chris Gunn

It will take the observatory four weeks to reach this location, where it will slowly unfold. Over the following months each instrument will be turned on and tested, in preparation for the beginning of the science mission around six months after launch.         

“Webb is an exemplary mission that signifies the epitome of perseverance,” Gregory L. Robinson, JWST program director at NASA Headquarters, said in a statement. “I am inspired by our dedicated team and our global partnerships that have made this incredible endeavor possible. Together, we’ve overcome technical obstacles along the way as well as challenges during the coronavirus pandemic. I also am grateful for the steadfast support of Congress. Now that we have an observatory and a rocket ready for launch, I am looking forward to the big day and the amazing science to come.”

The telescope is named after controversial NASA administrator James Webb, who ran the American space agency between 1961 and 1968. It will look at the universe in a longer wavelength compared to Hubble and is 100 times more sensitive. It will study the cosmos like never before, from exoplanets to the first stars and galaxies that ever shone.  


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