The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), and European Space Agency (ESA) formed a partnership to develop the world’s most powerful and largest telescope ever developed – the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), designed to unveil mysteries about the origins of the Universe. It will be capable of observing distant galaxies that are billions of years older than the Milky Way to provide scientists with more knowledge about our cosmic history that would help humanity understand our place in the universe, and possibly even uncover habitable planets. Some scientists and engineers at NASA have been working for over three decades - their entire careers - to bring James Webb to life. The telescope got launched 14 years later than originally anticipated and it cost $10 billion to make a reality. Astronomers hope that JWST is able to catch a glimpse of the very first galaxies the Big Bang formed 13.8 billion years ago. The telescope is equipped with a 21-foot-wide gold-plated mirror that will gather infrared light and help capture images from galaxies as old as time.
“The James Webb Space Telescope represents the ambition that NASA and our partners maintain to propel us forward into the future,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “The promise of Webb is not what we know we will discover; it’s what we don’t yet understand or can’t yet fathom about our universe. I can’t wait to see what it uncovers!”
We have LIFTOFF of the @NASAWebb Space Telescope!— NASA (@NASA) December 25, 2021
At 7:20am ET (12:20 UTC), the beginning of a new, exciting decade of science climbed to the sky. Webb’s mission to #UnfoldTheUniverse will change our understanding of space as we know it. pic.twitter.com/Al8Wi5c0K6
The James Webb Space Telescope was launched to space atop a Arianespace Ariane 5 rocket from launchpad ELA-3 at the Guiana Space Centre in South America on Saturday, December 25 at 7:20 a.m. ET. “From a tropical rainforest to the edge of time itself, James Webb begins a voyage back to the birth of the Universe!” Rob Navias, NASA’s announcer on the agency’s live broadcast said upon liftoff. Space enthusiasts from around the world enjoyed the broadcast of the launch during holiday festivities. The observatory was released at an altitude of approximately 870 miles (1,400 kilometers) above our planet. Approximately 30 minutes after liftoff, Webb successfully unfolded its solar array. The telescope is now headed for the Sun-Earth Lagrange Point 2 (L2) orbit, which is a gravitationally stable spot around 1 million miles (1.5 million kilometers) away from our planet. It will take 29 days for JWST to arrive to that specific L2 orbit. JWST will fire its onboard thrusters to arrive to its operational orbit where it will live out the rest of its life observing distant galaxies until it runs out of fuel in around 5 to 10 years.
Here it is: humanity’s final look at @NASAWebb as it heads into deep space to answer our biggest questions. Alone in the vastness of space, Webb will soon begin an approximately two-week process to deploy its antennas, mirrors, and sunshield. #UnfoldTheUniverse pic.twitter.com/DErMXJhNQd— NASA (@NASA) December 25, 2021
Project leaders say that the 29-day-period will be critical to the mission’s success, anything can go wrong. During that period, Webb will initiate the process to open up its giant telescope mirrors and all on-board instruments. “The Webb observatory has 50 major deployments […] and 178 release mechanisms to deploy those 50 parts,” NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center JWST Mission Systems Engineer Mike Menzel said in a video called ‘29 Days on the Edge,’ where JWST team members explained the telescope’s complex deployment sequence (video linked below). “Every single one of them must work… unfolding Webb is hands-down the most complicated spacecraft activity we’ve ever done,” Menzel said.
“The launch of the Webb Space Telescope is a pivotal moment – this is just the beginning for the Webb mission,” said Gregory L. Robinson, Webb’s program director at NASA Headquarters. “Now we will watch Webb’s highly anticipated and critical 29 days on the edge. When the spacecraft unfurls in space, Webb will undergo the most difficult and complex deployment sequence ever attempted in space. Once commissioning is complete, we will see awe-inspiring images that will capture our imagination.”
Webb will orbit the Sun in line with Earth so its sunshield can protect the telescope from light and heat. What’s the second Lagrange point, or L2? Glad you asked. More on our orbit: https://t.co/UXJMa6v7zB #UnfoldTheUniverse pic.twitter.com/5eCxd6YEWm— NASA Webb Telescope (@NASAWebb) December 26, 2021
VIDEO: JAMES WEBB SPACE TELESCOPE DEPLOYMENT EXPLAINED –29 DAYS ON EDGE
#UnfoldTheUniverse from the palm of your hand!— NASA (@NASA) December 26, 2021
Get a closer look at our largest & most powerful telescope with the interactive 3D model feature of @NASAWebb available now on our NASA app: https://t.co/zXKV6zvxpe pic.twitter.com/jL9hoMzNPR
Featured Image Source: NASA Live Broadcast
About the Author
Evelyn Janeidy Arevalo
Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.