The launch of the space telescope is imminent with a long delay
The “James Webb Space Telescope” has been in planning for more than 25 years; it was supposed to start in 2007. After cost overruns and postponed launches, the day when “Webb”, as the space telescope is often called, is to launch into space, is now within reach. On December 25, an Ariane 5 rocket will transport the telescope from the spaceport in Kourou in French Guiana into space. But this date – as of Thursday – is still uncertain: the telescope has long been at the top of the rocket – but the weather has to play along.
The launch of “Webb”, in which the US space organization Nasa, its European counterpart Esa and the Canadian space organization CSA are involved, is considered by astronomers as the rocket launch of the year: Researchers all over the world have been waiting a long time for the telescope, which is often referred to as the successor to the “Hubble” space telescope, is finally launched into space. Nothing can go wrong: The project devoured an impressive 10 billion US dollars. If something goes wrong, there will probably not be a second attempt.
And the first weeks in space will be tricky: the telescope has a 6.5 meter primary mirror and a sun shield the size of a tennis court, which protects the device from the heat of the sun. In order to stow these parts in the rocket, they were folded. In the days after the start, the telescope has to unfold in space – NASA speaks of “high-tech origami”. Eight days after take-off, the five-layer sun shield should be unfolded; after twelve days, the main mirror, which consists of 18 segments that are assembled in space using a motor, begins to unfold. After 13 days “Webb” will be unfolded.
Hope for answers
On the 29th day, “Webb” has to fire its engines to reach the orbit in which it is supposed to work – 1.5 million kilometers from Earth. There the gravitational forces of the earth and the sun cancel each other out, and the telescope can orbit the sun without any drive.
For scientists, patience is required after the start: it takes about six months before the telescope is ready for use. Then it should do nothing less than change our understanding of the universe.
“Webb” observes in the infrared range and, according to NASA, can observe everything: “From planets to stars and nebulae, galaxies and more”. It should “help researchers to uncover secrets in the distant universe, but also exoplanets closer to home”. It is said to look back more than 13.5 billion years and look for the oldest galaxies in the universe.
Eric Smith, Program Scientist at Nasa Webb: “The telescope will detect light from the first generation of galaxies that formed in the early universe after the Big Bang and examine the atmospheres of nearby exoplanets for possible signs of habitability.”
Researchers all over the world hope to find answers to fundamental questions: Are there other Earth-like planets? How did rock, ice and gas planets come into being in our solar system? But first of all, the start has to go through the stage – according to plan on Christmas Day between 1.20 and 1.52 p.m. It would be a great Christmas present for astronomers around the world.