New launch date for James Webb Space Telescope
28 June 2018After completion of an independent review, a new launch date for the James Webb Space Telescope has been announced: 30 March 2021.
|Artist's impression of Webb. Credit: ESA, NASA, S. Beckwith (STScI) and the HUDF Team, Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems / STScI / ATG medialab|
"The James Webb Space Telescope is the most ambitious and complex astronomical project ever built, and bringing it to life is a long, meticulous process. The wait will be a little longer now but the breakthrough science that it will enable is absolutely worth it," says Günther Hasinger, ESA Director of Science.
Following an internal inquiry earlier this year, NASA established an Independent Review Board to assess progress on the James Webb Space Telescope – a collaboration between NASA, ESA and the Canadian Space Agency.
The board evaluated a number of factors, from the technical challenges to remaining tasks leading to launch, and has unanimously recommended that development on the project should continue.
The Webb is an unprecedented endeavour in space science, requiring utmost ingenuity in both the scientific and technical domains. Several new technologies have been developed and mastered to make its distinctive features possible, including the deployable nature of the observatory, which will carry the largest mirror ever flown into space, and the low-temperatures needed to operate its infrared instruments that will peer farther and deeper into our cosmic origins.
From the secrets of stars and planets taking shape in our Milky Way to the first galaxies that ever formed in the history of our 13.8-billion year old Universe, from the mysteries of our Solar System to those of planets that circle stars beyond our Sun, the Webb will address fundamental questions in astronomy that can only be tackled with such a complex observatory.
In its report, the review board stressed the project's significant complexity, incredible scientific potential, and importance to astrophysics. Because of the sheer size and complexity of the Webb, the process of integrating and testing parts is more complicated than that of most space science missions. The new launch date in early 2021 was estimated taking this into account and incorporating the recommendations from the review board.
The next step is now to complete the extensive battery of testing on the spacecraft element of the Webb. Once this is done, it will be integrated with the other half of the observatory: the telescope and science instrument module. This module, which completed its tests last year, includes the NIRSpec and MIRI instruments – part of Europe's contribution to the observatory.
The fully-assembled observatory then will undergo a series of challenging environmental tests and a final deployment test before it is shipped to Europe's spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, to be launched on an Ariane 5 rocket.
The James Webb Space Telescope is an international project led by NASA with its partners, ESA and the Canadian Space Agency.
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