James Webb Space Telescope set to be lifted into orbit atop an Ariane 5 launch vehicle
ESA has announced thefinalization of a contract with Arianespace that will see its nextgeneration James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) lift off into Earthorbit atop an Ariane 5 launch vehicle. The ascent will take placefrom the agency's spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana in Oct. 2018.
Once launched, it ishoped that the James Webb Space Telescope will represent a giant leapforward in Mankind's capacity to observe a wide range of astronomicalphenomenon. Among its many targets, the observatory will hunt forrelics dating back to the early universe, allowing astronomers tochart the evolution of galaxies from their embryonic state to morefully-formed structures such as our own Milky Way.
The telescope will alsobe instrumental in the characterizing of distant exoplanets, andwitnessing the birth of distant stars and planets. The JWST's sciencemodule is currently undergoing testing, while the first of itsmirrors was recently installed in a clean room at NASA's GoddardSpace Flight Center in Maryland
In order for the JWSTto revolutionize space exploration, ESA must first ensure theinsertion of the telescope into its selected orbit, which wouldplace it 1.5 million km (0.9 million miles) from Earth in astatic position on the anti-sunward side of the planet.
For this task ESA isrelying on a pedigree of launch vehicles that has been in servicesince the 1980s. The Ariane 5 serving as the chariot for the JWSTmission will use a combination of two solid fuel rocket boosters anda liquid fuel main stage to heft the JWST in to its distant orbit.
Inside the fairing of alaunch vehicle like the Ariane 5, space is at a premium. In order tofit safely within the confines of the protective shell, the entirespacecraft, including the JWST's vast mirror section, which iscomprised of 18 hexagonal sub-sections, will have to fold up, like anincredibly expensive piece of origami. The mirror section will laterunfurl to form a single 21.3 ft (6.5 m) mirror when the telescope issafely en-route to its operational orbit.
Included in thecontract is a clause that will necessitate the development of a newclean room environment in which to prepare the telescope for mountingto the launch vehicle. This is a measure designed to protect theincredibly delicate mirrors and other vital systems from beingcompromised by outside contaminants.