The Most Powerful Telescope Ever Built Launches Into Space To Unfold The Universe


New Delhi: The NASA James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), the most powerful and complex space observatory ever built, blasted off into space on Christmas, after decades of wait. JWST, also called Webb, was launched atop an Ariane 5 rocket on Saturday, December 25, at 7:20 am EST (5:50 pm IST).

It lifted off into space from Arianespace’s ELA-3 launch complex at the European Spaceport located near Kourou, French Guiana, South America.
Webb is a large, space-based, infrared observatory, and a successor to the Hubble Space Telescope. Development of the $10 billion telescope began in 1996. The infrared telescope is the largest space observatory ever built, and the first of its kind.

It is 100 times more powerful than Hubble, and has been folded origami-style to fit in the rocket atop which it was launched. Webb will unfold like a “Transformer” in space, NASA said on its website.

Webb is also set to unfold the Universe and will usher in a new era of astronomy.

The live broadcast before the launch began at 4:30 pm IST. European Space Agency astronaut Matthias Maurer, who is also an Expedition 66 crew member on the International Space Station, explained what Webb will do in space, in the live broadcast.

ALSO READ: EXPLAINED: How NASA’s James Webb Telescope Will Help Unravel Secrets Of Cosmos & Earliest Galaxies

At 4:54 pm IST, the official Twitter handle of NASA Webb tweeted that the Ariane 5 rocket, which is Webb’s launch vehicle, is all fueled up.

The Most Powerful Telescope Ever Built Launches Into Space To Unfold The Universe
Ariane 5, Webb’s launch vehicle (Photo: Twitter/@NASAWebb)

Timeline Of Events After Launch

After launch, Webb will deploy on its 30-day, million-mile journey out to the second Lagrange point (L2). Webb will not be in orbit around Earth, like the Hubble Space Telescope, but will actually orbit the Sun. The telescope will orbit Earth’s star, 1.5 million kilometers, or 1 million miles away from our planet, at L2. This orbit is special because it lets the telescope stay in line with Earth as it moves around the Sun. As a result, the satellite’s large sunshield will be able to protect the telescope from the light and heat of the Sun, Earth, and Moon.

Webb will have two sides: the hot side and the cold side. The hot side, which is equipped with the solar panel and communications antenna, will operate at a temperature of 185 degree Fahrenheit, or 85 degree Celsius. The cold side, which has the science instruments, detectors, and mirrors, will have a temperature of -388 degree Fahrenheit or -233 degree Celsius.

In the first hour after launch, solar array deployment took place, followed by “free flight.” Thrust was provided by the Ariane 5 launch vehicle for roughly 26 minutes after liftoff from French Guiana. Webb separated from Ariane moments after second stage engine cut-off. This triggered the solar array to deploy within minutes so that Webb can start making electricity from sunshine. Also, the telescope will stop draining its battery. JWST quickly established its ability to orient itself, and “fly” in space.

Three minutes post launch, the official handle of Webb tweeted that the two solid rocket boosters have separated from the Ariane 5 rocket.

At around six minutes after launch, Webb’s The fairing had been jettisoned, revealing the telescope for the first time in space. Also, mission control on Earth successfully received telemetry from the observatory.

Almost 30 minutes after launch, the official handle of Webb tweeted that the telescope has separated from the upper stage, and that the observatory is flying on its own.

Two minutes after upper stage separation, the solar array was successfully deployed, and Webb’s batteries started to charge up.

At 6:23 pm IST, NASA tweeted a video which shows humanity’s final look at Webb as it heads into deep space to answer the biggest questions. The post said that Webb, alone in the vastness of space, will soon begin an approximately two-week process to deploy its antennas, mirrors, and sunshield.

Over 30 minutes after launch, NASA tweeted that a milestone was achieved, and that Webb is safely in space, powered on, and communicating with ground controllers.

Almost an hour after launch, Webb is safely in space with its solar array drawing power from the Sun, according to a post by JWST’s official twitter handle. The post read that the reaction wheels will keep the spacecraft pointed in the right direction so that its sunshield can protect the telescope from radiation and heat.

Webb will cover longer wavelengths of light than Hubble and will have greatly improved sensitivity. The longer wavelengths will enable Webb to look further back in time to see the first galaxies that formed in the early universe, NASA said on its website. The primary goal of JWST will be to study galaxy, star, and planet formation in the universe.

JWST is an international collaboration between NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), and the Canadian Space Agency.

The telescope will be a giant leap forward in our desire to understand the Universe and its origins. The telescope will examine every phase of cosmic history, from the first luminous glows after the Big Bang to the formation of galaxies, stars, and planets, and the evolution of our own solar system.

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