The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), which will observe the distant Universe with unparalleled precision, is expected to leave Earth by the end of 2021, as planned, officials from the European and American space agencies said on Tuesday.
Presented as the “big Brother“of the Hubble telescope, the JWST is a marvel of technology developed for a budget of about 10 billion dollars, which has experienced many delays in its program, in particular because of its great complexity.
Built in the United States under the direction of NASA, it incorporates instruments from the European (ESA) and Canadian (CSA) space agencies. It is to be sent into space by an Ariane-5 rocket from Arianespace, from the Kourou spaceport in French Guiana.
“We are on time to start placing the vessel in a container in order to send it (from the United States, Editor’s note) by sea transport towards the end of August“in the direction of Kourou,” NASA Science Director Thomas Zurbuchen said during a virtual press conference with ESA, CSA and Arianespace.
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The first possible launch was so far set for October 31. An Arianespace official indicated that the final date would be “communicated only a few weeks before launch“. This date “depends on a combination of different factors“, according to Beatriz Romero, head of the JWST project at Arianespace, specifying that”the launch period runs until the beginning of December“.
Concerns about the timing had arisen after information, mentioned in the audit of an official American body, the GAO, on anomalies occurring at the time of the separation of the fairing, the cone that houses the Ariane payload. 5, during two successful satellite launches.
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“The origin of the anomaly has been identified, corrective actions have been taken“, assured an official of ESA in charge of launches with Ariane-5.”We are carrying out the final tests these days“, and the whole”will not put at risk the launch of the telescope“, added Daniel de Chambure. He qualified the anomaly, without describing it, of”relatively minor“.
The scientific co-manager of the JWST, Pierre Ferruit, for his part justified the many delays recorded in the program by the fact that there is no right to error: “There is no spare James Webb, so a constant worry on our part is testing.“, he said.