After 15 years of development and $10 billion (£7.25 billion) spent, the James Webb Space Telescope is ebbing ever closer to launch.
The successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, NASA’s new outer-Earth observatory is not only expected to deepen our understanding of the Milky Way, but also far-away exoplanets and celestial objects. Able to capture a wide range of light wavelengths, the JWST also hopes to observe the Universe’s first galaxies and find even evidence of dark matter.
Using its infra-red telescope, the JWST observatory will examine objects over 13.6 billion light-years away. Because of the time it takes light to travel across the Universe, this means that the JWST will effectively be looking at objects 13.6 billion years ago, an estimated 100 to 250 million years after the Big Bang. This is the furthest back in time ever observed by humanity.
Billed as the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, the JWST is the largest space observatory ever built. Its gigantic sunshield base measures a massive 22m by 12m, roughly the same size as a tennis court. Although nearly twice as big as Hubble (which is only 13m long), the JWST is almost half the weight at 6,500kg.
The JWST’s gold-plated mirrors have a total diameter of 6.5m, much larger than Hubble’s 2.4m diameter plate. Overall, the JWST will have approximately a 15 times wider view than Hubble.
An Ariane 5 rocket carrying the James Webb Space Telescope is expected to launch on 31 October 2021 (Halloween) at French Guiana.
The James Webb Space Telescope is named after James Edwin Webb, the second administrator of NASA.
“It is fitting that Hubble’s successor be named in honour of James Webb. Thanks to his efforts, we got our first glimpses at the dramatic landscape of outer space,” said former NASA administrator Sean O’Keefe about the observatory’s name. “He took our nation on its first voyages of exploration, turning our imagination into reality.”