After multiple delays due to technical issues, the world’s most powerful space telescope launched into orbit on Saturday, bound for an outpost 1.5 million kilometres (930,000 miles) beyond Earth.
The James Webb Space Telescope, which took three decades and billions of dollars to build, launched from French Guiana’s Kourou Space Centre atop an Ariane 5 rocket.
“What a fantastic day. It is, without a doubt, the most wonderful time of the year “According to Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s head of scientific missions, the telescope was created in collaboration with the European and Canadian space agencies, ESA and ACS.
“I’m very glad to tell you that we’ve delivered the spacecraft into orbit quite accurately… that Ariane 5 behaved extremely well,” ESA chief Josef Aschbacher said.
This was critical since orbiting the spaceship saves money on the fuel the telescope will require to get to its final destination and perform properly afterward.
It will take a month to reach its far-flung destination.
It is expected to return fresh information that will aid scientists in learning more about the Universe’s origins and Earth-like planets beyond our solar system.
Webb, named for a former NASA administrator, is a follower of the renowned Hubble space telescope, but it aims to show mankind what the Universe looked like much closer to its beginning about 14 billion years ago.
Webb project co-founder John Mather praised the telescope’s remarkable sensitivity in a social media post.
“At the distance of the Moon, #JWST can see the thermal signature of a bumblebee,” he stated.
All of that power is required to detect the faint glow released billions of years ago by the very first galaxies and stars to develop.
‘Important measures’ taken by NASA
In terms of size and intricacy, the telescope is unparalleled.
Its mirror is three times the size of Hubble’s, measuring 6.5 metres (21 feet) in diameter and made up of 18 hexagonal parts.
It was folded to fit into the rocket since it was so big.
That manoeuvre was laser-guided, with NASA enforcing tight separation measures to prevent particles or even human breath from coming into contact with the telescope’s optics.
The protective nose of the ship, known as a “fairing,” will be discarded after the rockets have carried Webb 120 kilometres to lower the load.
Arianespace, the rocket manufacturer, designed a bespoke decompression system to safeguard the delicate equipment from pressure changes at that stage.
On Thursday, a European Space Agency official in Kourou remarked, “Extraordinary measures for an exceptional client.”
About 27 minutes after launch, ground crews were to learn whether the first stage of the mission was successful.
The difficulty will be to fully deploy the mirror and a tennis-court-sized sun cover once it arrives at its station.
That terrifyingly intricate process will take two weeks and must be faultless in order for Webb to work properly.
It will orbit the Earth at a significantly higher altitude than Hubble, which has been 600 kilometres above the surface since 1990.
The Lagrange 2 point, where Webb’s orbit is located, was chosen in part because it keeps the Earth, the Solar, and the Moon all on the same side of its sun shield. Webb is expected to officially enter service in June.