Early this morning an Ariane 5 rocket successfully launched the James Webb Space Telescope from French Guiana.
The key moment that indicated the launch was success was, after Webb was deployed from the rocket’s upper stage, its solar panels deployed and the telescope began receiving power from them.
The launch itself was something that has been done by the Ariane 5 rocket many many times, without failure. Now comes the part of this operation that has never been done before.
Now “30 days of terror” begin, as JWST starts its career in space. First, it will take the space telescope 30 days to reach the start of its halo orbit at L2. On its way, the telescope must unfurl its 18 gold-plated beryllium mirror segments using 132 actuators. It will also have to deploy its five-layer, origami sunshield and cool down to below 50K (-223°C or -370°F) to begin the start of science operations in 2022.
NASA has a webpage that shows the step-by-step deployment, and allows you to see the status at any time during the next 30 days.
After almost twenty years of development and a budget that went 20x over its original estimate, let’s us all hope that Webb deploys properly and begins collecting data as intended. If it does, it will allow astronomers to make ground-breaking discoveries, and we shall gain a better idea of what lies hidden behind that black sky that surrounds us.
As for the 2021 launch race, this is the updated leader board:
7 Europe (Arianespace)
China will likely be the winner in the national rankings, 49 to 48 over the U.S. This was the 130th successful launch in 2021, only the second time in the history of space exploration that the world reached that number of launches in a single year.
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