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Launch of the James Webb Space Telescope in November 2021


Conception by Space Telescope artist James Webb.

Conception by Space Telescope artist James Webb.
Image: Northrop Grumman

The next James Webb Space Telescope, already seven years old late, will not launch Halloween as planned, which is just as well, given the disastrous date and unfortunate history of this project. For once, the delay is not due to the telescope, but rather to the beam that will transport it into space.

We need to be patient, but hopefully not for much longer.

As confirmed yesterday during the European Space Agency media briefing, the James Webb Space Telescope will not launch on October 31st as well as expected. In case one of the two unrelated commercial launches of an Ariane 5 rocket goes well in the coming months, however, a launch could happen as early as mid-November. The original timeline had the JWST launch in 2014 — and after 2018, after 2019, after summer 2020, then March 2021, then this Halloween – so a few more weeks of waiting isn’t a big deal. Or at least, that’s what I tell myself.

No doubt, it’s hard to be patient, given the promise of what appears to be the most remarkable telescope ever built. Once in space, the telescope will appear the infrared universe, it scans the atmosphere of distant exoplanets, looks at the stars, and detects ancient galaxies that were born only 150 million years after the Big Bang.

The project, an international partnership involving NASA, ESA and the Canadian Space Agency, was harassed with delays, including a reinforce your parasol which took longer than anticipated. The estimated cost of the project, at $ 9.7 billion, is almost double the original quote, according to report published by the Government Accountability Office last month.


And now we have another delay, this time the result of an anomaly experienced during two Arianespace launches. Rachetta Ariane 5 last year. As the GAO report stated, “Ariane launches of this type of vehicle are currently being postponed” until ESA and Arianespace “investigate unexpected vehicle accelerations” that occur when the fairing separates during the two launches. Payloads have been successfully distributed in both cases, but Arianespace “must demonstrate that the problem has been corrected on at least one [of two scheduled] launch “before JWST can go up. Arianespace has not disclosed the dates of the next launches, but the first could happen in July, SpaceNews report.

Much of this was confirmed during ESA’s mid-term meeting held yesterday, which served as a preview of JWST’s next launch and as a prelude to the telescope’s capabilities. Representatives from NASA, ESA and CSA participated in the event, and the general consensus was that the Ariane 5 rocket is ready. and that the launch of JWST in mid-November is likely.

Thomas Zurbuchen, director of NASA’s scientific mission, said the telescope will be sent to ESA’s launch site in French Guiana by the end of August, after which time it will take 55 days to pack the device in. the pitcher. He described the current timeline for a launch in November as “approximately correct”.

Daniel de Chambure, chief in charge of Ariane 5 adaptations and future missions to ESA, said that “the source of the problem has been found”, and “corrective actions have been taken”, adding that the review of qualification is started, “then we should be able to confirm all this in a few days or weeks.” The anomaly, he retorted, “does not jeopardize the mission.” No further details were provided on the problem and how it was resolved.

Zurbuchen said Arianespace has been transparent throughout the process.

“We have all the information we need. We have in-depth technical discussions with all parties aligned with a goal, and that is to create the success of the mission.” To which he added: “We are in the business of science. of rockets, then we are accustomed to problems ”.

Kind of foreshadowing something to say, but at least things seem to be moving forward. Arianespace has reserved a window to launch JWST from October 31st to early December, so there’s a good chance the telescope will launch this year – but we’ve been disappointed before. When it comes to James Webb Space T.telescope, we’ll believe it once we see it parked at the second point Lagrange, about 1.5 million kilometers (nearly 1 million miles) from Earth.

No longer: The SpaceX cargo mission on the ISS includes squid, tardigrades and avocados.

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