NASA sets launch date for James Webb Space Telescope this year
NASA has finally set a date for the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). If all goes to plan, the long-awaited flagship mission will blast into orbit on December 18, 2021, from French Guiana onboard an Ariane 5 rocket.
The announcement comes after years of unfortunate delays, with its launch window being pushed back on an almost annual basis since 2018. We don’t want to jinx it, but this time it looks like the timeframe will stick – a specific date is more solid than past windows like “mid-2020” or “no earlier than March 2021.”
Everything is in place: the telescope completed its final testing phase a few weeks ago, and has since been folded up into its stow configuration, at Northropp Grumman’s facilities in California. The main components of the Ariane 5 rocket, which will carry the telescope into orbit, arrived at the launch site in French Guiana last week.
With the pieces in place, NASA has coordinated with Arianespace, the French company in charge of the launch, to set the December date. Arianespace successfully launched an Ariane 5 rocket in July, with another ahead of Webb in the queue.
Over the next few months, the JWST will undergo its final closeout procedures before being shipped to Kourou, French Guiana, via the Panama Canal.
Once in space, the JWST will make its way to the second Lagrange Point in the Earth/Sun system, where it will scan the cosmos in infrared light for at least the next decade. Among its science goals, the telescope will study the earliest light in the universe, examine exoplanets in more detail, and could even detect evidence of life beyond Earth.