NASA Targets Webb Telescope December 22, 2021 Launch

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope is ready for flight, and launch preparations are resuming toward Webb’s target launch date of Wednesday, Dec. 22, at 7:20 a.m. EST.

The James Webb Space Telescope will be launched on an Ariane 5 rocket.

The primary mirror of the JWST, the Optical Telescope Element, consists of 18 hexagonal mirror segments made of gold-plated beryllium which combine to create a 6.5 m (21 ft) diameter mirror—considerably larger than Hubble’s 2.4 m (7 ft 10 in) mirror. Unlike the Hubble telescope, which observes in the near ultraviolet, visible, and near infrared (0.1 to 1 μm) spectra, the JWST will observe in a lower frequency range, from long-wavelength visible light through mid-infrared (0.6 to 28.3-μm), which will allow it to observe high redshift objects that are too old and too distant for Hubble to observe.

NASA’s lifetime cost for the project is expected to be US$9.7 billion, of which US$8.8 billion was spent on spacecraft design and development and US$861 million is planned to support five years of mission operations. Representatives from ESA and CSA stated their project contributions amount to approximately €700 million and CA$200 million.

The James Webb Space Telescope has four key goals:

to search for light from the first stars and galaxies that formed in the Universe after the Big Bang
to study the formation and evolution of galaxies
to understand the formation of stars and planetary systems
to study planetary systems and the origins of life

The JWST will be located near the second Lagrange point (L2) of the Earth-Sun system, which is 1,500,000 km (930,000 mi) from Earth, directly opposite to the Sun. Normally an object circling the Sun farther out than Earth would take longer than one year to complete its orbit, but near the L2 point the combined gravitational pull of the Earth and the Sun allow a spacecraft to orbit the Sun in the same time it takes the Earth. The telescope will circle about the L2 point in a halo orbit, which will be inclined with respect to the ecliptic, have a radius of approximately 800,000 km (500,000 mi), and take about half a year to complete.