The world’s next generation cosmic observatory, the James Webb Space Telescope, is due for launch on an Ariane 5 from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana.
Webb is a joint project between NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Canadian Space Agency and is a remarkable feat of engineering and technology. The telescope is fitted with the largest astronomical mirror ever flown in space, sophisticated new scientific instruments, and a sunshield the size of a tennis court.
Ariane 5 is one of the most reliable launch vehicles in the world and special modifications have been made for the preparation and launch of Webb.
Webb will be the premier observatory of the next decade, serving thousands of astronomers worldwide. It will study every phase in the history of our Universe.
Several innovative technologies have been developed for Webb. These include a primary mirror made of 18 separate segments that unfold and adjust to shape after launch. The mirrors are made of ultra-lightweight beryllium. Webb’s biggest feature is a tennis court sized five-layer sunshield that attenuates heat from the Sun more than a million times. The telescope’s four instruments — cameras and spectrometers — have detectors that are able to record extremely faint signals. One instrument (NIRSpec) has programmable microshutters, which enable observation up to 100 objects simultaneously. Webb also has a cryocooler for cooling the mid-infrared detectors of another instrument (MIRI) to a very cold 7 K so they can work.
The James Webb Space Telescope will be the largest, most powerful telescope ever launched into space.
Webb’s flight into orbit will take place on an Ariane 5 rocket from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana.
Webb is the next great space science observatory, designed to answer outstanding questions about the Universe and to make breakthrough discoveries in all fields of astronomy. Webb will see farther into our origins – from the formation of stars and planets, to the birth of the first galaxies in the early Universe.
During the first month in space, on its way to the second Langrange point (L2), Webb will undergo a complex unfolding sequence. Key steps in this sequence are unfolding Webb’s sunshield – a five-layer, diamond-shaped structure the size of a tennis court – and the iconic 6.5-meter wide mirror, consisting of a honeycomb-like pattern of 18 hexagonal, gold-coated mirror segments.
Working with partners, ESA was responsible for the development and qualification of Ariane 5 adaptations for the Webb mission and for the procurement of the launch service. As well as launch services, ESA contributes to two of the four science instruments (NIRSpec and MIRI), and provides personnel to support mission operations.
Webb is an international partnership between NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).