We don’t want to count our chickens just yet, but it looks like the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) might actually launch in October, for real this time. The perennially delayed instrument has completed its final tests and is now being prepped for shipment to the launch facility.
Originally due to launch in 2007, the JWST underwent a drastic redesign and was given a new launch window of between 2015 and 2018. That later slipped to June 2019, then May 2020, then March 2021, and most recently to October 2021, thanks to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Not to jinx it, but it’s looking like this latest launch date might actually stick.
NASA has finally given the telescope the green light for launch, having put it through years of tests and checkpoints to make sure that it will operate properly once it gets up there. After all, the JWST is bound for the second Lagrange Point in the Earth/Sun system almost a million miles away, so unlike Hubble, astronauts won’t be able to swing by for repairs and upgrades.
After the JWST aced all of its tests, engineers folded up its sunshield pallets, stowed the central tower, and locked it all together ready to be placed in a transporter container. These preparations, due to be completed in September, will get it ready to begin the next leg of its journey.
But that’s not space just yet – first it has to travel from the Northrop Grumman facilities in California to the launch site in Kourou, French Guiana, on the northeastern coast of South America. Once there, it will be packed into the Ariane 5 launch vehicle fairing, ready to leave Earth after all these years.
When it’s finally up and running, the James Webb Space Telescope will scan the cosmos in infrared for at least a decade, providing a deeper look in space and back in time than ever before. It will study the earliest light in the universe, peer closer at exoplanets, and give us our best shot yet at finding the first evidence of life beyond Earth.
The final preparations for the JWST’s journey can be seen in the video below.
Social Media Short: NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope Completes Testing