This morning, the spaceflight and science communities held their breath as Arianespace launched the long-awaited James Webb Space Telescope. But, while the launch is now done, Webb has a long trip to go and many more obstacles to face.
Launch, finally, James Webb Space Telescope is on its way
The most intense moment for most onlookers, the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope took place from French Guiana on a European Ariane 5 rocket. However, unlike the project’s delays, the launch took place without a hitch. Other than a few setbacks with the telescope, the launch vehicle and weather cooperated.
The Ariane 5 rocket performed flawlessly and placed the telescope on its trajectory towards its orbit at the Sun-Earth L2 point far beyond the ability to reach it with humans. After about a 30 minute launch, the Webb telescope separated from the Ariane’s second stage and deployed its solar array.
A joint venture between NASA, ESA, and CSA, the Europeans were in charge of launching Webb. Entrusted with this daunting task, the stress of launch is no longer on the shoulders of Arianespace. Now teams at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and the Space Telescope Science Institute will overlook the telescope as it starts its journey past the Moon.
Today’s launch is the mission of the decade, one that demonstrates the reliability of Arianespace’s launch services in the eyes of the international space community. It’s a great honor for us to have been chosen for this launch, which will enable humanity to take a giant step forward in its knowledge of the Universe. The mission demanded 20 years of preparation hand in hand with NASA. It’s the third launch we have performed for the American space agency, clearly illustrating the advantage of large-scale international collaboration in space.Stephane Israël, Chief Executive Officer of Arianespace
Now the deployment from hell begins
For most satellites, solar array deployment is the biggest moment, but that’s the easiest one for Webb. Over the coming weeks, Webb will slowly begin to deploy all of its instruments, some of which are the most complicated ever sent to space.
The James Webb telescope is one of the most complicated science instruments ever sent to space. It will have to deploy a tennis court size sun shield and 18 gold plated beryllium mirrors. In total, there are 433 single points of failure. Many of these could cause the telescope to be lost and inoperable like the solar shield, mirrors, or instrument arm.
Due to its distance, saving the telescope if a failure arises is impossible. Controllers have one shot at deploying and operating the $10 billion telescope.
Stay tuned to Space Explored for updates as Webb begins being fully deployed and the first scientific data is collected.