In line with reports last month, NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) have confirmed that the James Webb Space Telescope launch date will not happen on October 31st as planned.
According to the comments made by Beatriz Romero, the telescope’s director of launch services, submitted this week and reported by Ars Technica, three particular issues have emerged that mean the telescope’s launch date will be postponed again.
First, organizing the transportation of the telescope from the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas to the launch site in French Guiana is taking longer than expected. The journey from Texas to French Guiana is approximately 3,200 miles, and the satellite will travel by sea. But it is still not packed in a shipping container, which will not happen until August at the earliest.
Second, Arianespace’s workhorse Ariane 5 rocket, which will launch the James Webb Space Telescope into space, has an issue with its fairing – the section at the top of the rocket that houses the payloads. Engineers have diagnosed and fixed the problem, but two Ariane 5 launches testing the solution must take place before the telescope launches.
Third, like so many facilities, the operations of the spaceport in French Guiana have been slowed down by the coronavirus pandemic, and it is of course difficult to predict how the infection rate could affect the situation in the coming months.
So when is the most powerful space telescope ever built? It seems the delay won’t be too long this time as the team hopes to finally leave Earth in November or December. The team expects to announce a new start date towards the end of summer or early fall.
When it finally reaches its target orbit in a few months, the James Webb Space Telescope will take on a variety of tasks, including studying potentially habitable worlds, finding light from the first galaxies to form in the early universe, and collecting data to help us better understand the origins of the universe and our place in it.
The telescope is characterized by its beautiful gold mirror, 6.5 meters in diameter, made up of 18 hexagonal segments that allow it to look into space. The mirror’s sun protection, which is about the size of a tennis court, is just as impressive. Each component is far too big to fit in the fairing of a rocket, so both fold for travel into space and automatically unfold after use.
The James Webb Space Telescope is the result of an international collaboration between NASA, ESA and the Canadian Space Agency. It was originally scheduled to launch in 2007, but various issues along the way caused several delays.
Despite these recent hiccups, the team seems confident that the telescope will reach space later this year.