Science & Technology

NASA’s massive next-generation space telescope arrives in South America ahead of launch

After greater than twenty years of delays and ballooning growth prices, NASA’s next-generation space observatory, the James Webb Space Telescope, has arrived in French Guiana, South America — the positioning of the spacecraft’s deliberate launch later this yr. Its arrival sparks the start of weeks of remaining preparations earlier than the telescope is loaded on the highest of its rocket for flight.

The James Webb Space Telescope, or JWST, spent 16 days at sea, packed inside an environmentally managed, custom-built transport container aboard a French cargo ship. The vessel transported the spacecraft from Redondo Seaside, California, the positioning of the telescope’s main contractor, Northrup Grumman. JWST had been at Northrop since early 2018, the place it was present process remaining meeting and testing.

Now that JWST is in French Guiana, the spacecraft is nearer than ever to its launch, which has long been a moving target. Initially proposed in 1996, JWST was purported to launch as early as 2007 for a value of $1 billion. However the mission’s timeline has been delayed quite a few instances, because the price range of the mission has elevated to $9.7 billion. On September eighth, NASA set a target launch date for December 18th, 2021, 14 years later than initially deliberate.

Many of the delays resulted from issues that arose throughout testing of the spacecraft. JWST has undergone a battery of exams, together with vibrational and cryogenic testing, to make sure that spacecraft can stand up to the depth of launch and the tough space surroundings. Nevertheless, throughout testing and meeting at Northrop Grumman, some screws got here free, valves leaked, and engineers discovered tears in the spacecraft’s skinny sunshield, which is essential for shielding JWST from overheating whereas in direct view of the Solar.

Testing ultimately wrapped up on JWST in August of this yr, and Northrop Grumman spent the following month fastidiously folding the telescope into the fitting configuration it wanted to be in for transport to French Guiana. NASA additionally purposefully didn’t reveal the precise date JWST left Redondo Seaside on the time, over fears that the vessel carrying the spacecraft might be intercepted by pirates. Late in the evening on September twenty fourth, a police escort accompanied JWST in its transport container on a 26-mile journey by way of Los Angeles to Naval Weapons Station Seal Seaside, the place it was loaded onto its trip to Kourou, French Guiana.

There’s nonetheless a lot left to do earlier than flight, however when JWST does launch, it’s set to revolutionize astronomy, permitting researchers to look deeper into the cosmos than ever earlier than. Set to fly to space on high of a European Ariane 5 rocket, the telescope is meant to journey to a spot a million miles from Earth. With a massive gold-plated mirror spanning 25 toes extensive, JWST will have the ability to collect gentle from the oldest objects in the Universe — some that fashioned simply after the Huge Bang.

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