NASA Launches Webb Space Telescope on Christmas Day as Cosmic Time Machine to Explore First Stars and Galaxies

NASA Launches Webb Space Telescope on Christmas Day as Cosmic Time Machine to Explore First Stars and Galaxies
NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope launched Dec. 25, 2021 at 7:20 a.m. EST on an Ariane 5 rocket from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana, on the northeastern coast of South America. Webb, a partnership with the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency, will explore every phase of cosmic history – from within our solar system to the most distant observable galaxies in the early universe. Credit: ESA/CNES/Arianespace

CAPE CANAVERAL, FL – After much blood, sweat and tears expended over two decades in the making, NASA’s mammoth James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) launched at last on Christmas morning, Saturday, Dec. 25, from the Guiana Space Center in South America on a robotic mission as a cosmic time machine peering back to nearly the beginning of time to see first light and explore the formation of the first stars and galaxies in our Universe – while operating from a unique orbital perch a million miles (1.5 million km) from Earth.

Webb is truly a Christmas gift to all humanity – and a Christmas miracle as the stars aligned!

The giant school bus sized and nearly 6.8-ton (6.2-metric ton) infrared observatory has huge ambitions – despite being billions over budget and years behind schedule and faced down cancellation from short-sighted budget cutters in Congress.

It seeks to ask and answer the big questions – Who we are? How did we come to be?  by looking back to the birth of the Universe

The $9.8 Billion Webb observatory – intricately folded up like origami inside the nose cone – launched at 7:20 a.m. EST (9:20 a.m. GFT  / 1220 GMT / 13:20 CET). Saturday, Dec. 25, on a 55 m (180 ft) tall Arianespace Ariane 5 rocket from Europe’s jungle Spaceport at the ELA-3 launch complex in Kourou, French Guiana, on the northeastern coast of South America.

“Liftoff from a tropical rainforest to the edge of time itself, James Webb begins a voyage back to the birth of the universe,” said NASA commentator Rob Navius during a live broadcast on NASA TV upon liftoff of Webb.

President Biden sent his congratulations soon after liftoff!

Webb is joint effort between NASA, ESA (European Space Agency) and CSA (Canadian Space Agency).

Arianespace’s Ariane 5 rocket is seen in this false color infrared exposure as it launches with NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope onboard, Saturday, Dec. 25, 2021, from the ELA-3 Launch Zone of Europe’s Spaceport at the Guiana Space Centre in Kourou, French Guiana. The James Webb Space Telescope is a large infrared telescope with a 21.3 foot (6.5 meter) primary mirror. The observatory will study every phase of cosmic history—from within our solar system to the most distant observable galaxies in the early universe. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

“The James Webb Space Telescope represents the ambition that NASA and our partners maintain to propel us forward into the future,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson.

“The promise of Webb is not what we know we will discover; it’s what we don’t yet understand or can’t yet fathom about our universe. I can’t wait to see what it uncovers!”

Webb is in many respects a time machine looking back to the formation of the Universe over 13.5 Billion years ago and how we came to be and evolve over the eons.

“The Webb observatory is NASA’s revolutionary flagship mission to seek the light from the first galaxies in the early universe and to explore our own solar system, as well as planets orbiting other stars, called exoplanets,” say NASA officials.

The infrared observatory will study every phase of cosmic history—from within our solar system to the most distant observable galaxies in the early universe  starting within about 200 million years of the Big Bang and see first light from the birth of the first stars and galaxies.

It will look at exoplanets and analyze their composition and atmospheres and search for signs of life like water, oxygen and organic molecules in unprecedented resolution with a quartet of state-of-the-art science instruments provided by NASA, ESA and CSA.

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope launched Dec. 25, 2021 at 7:20 a.m. EST on an Ariane 5 rocket from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana, on the northeastern coast of South America. Webb, a partnership with the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency, will explore every phase of cosmic history – from within our solar system to the most distant observable galaxies in the early universe. Credit: NASA/Chris Gunn

Ground teams began receiving telemetry data from Webb about five minutes after launch.

The Arianespace Ariane 5 rocket performed as expected, separating from the observatory 27 minutes into the flight.

The observatory was released from the upper stage at an altitude of approximately 870 miles (1,400 kilometers).

Approximately 30 minutes after launch, Webb unfolded its single life-giving solar array, and mission managers confirmed that the solar array was providing power to the observatory to keep it healthy and functioning.

After solar array deployment, mission operators successfully established a communications link with the observatory via the Malindi ground station in Kenya, and ground control at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore did send the first commands to the spacecraft, NASA reported.

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope separates from the Ariane 5 rocket upper stage about 27 minutes after liftoff on Dec. 25, 2021 at 7:20 a.m. EST from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana, on the northeastern coast of South America. Credit: NASA TV

Engineers and ground controllers will conduct the first of three mid-course correction burns about 12 hours and 30 minutes after launch, firing Webb’s thrusters to maneuver the spacecraft on an optimal trajectory toward its destination in orbit about 1 million miles (1.5 mil km) from Earth at the L2 Lagrange point

“I want to congratulate the team on this incredible achievement – Webb’s launch marks a significant moment not only for NASA, but for thousands of people worldwide who dedicated their time and talent to this mission over the years,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

“Webb’s scientific promise is now closer than it ever has been. We are poised on the edge of a truly exciting time of discovery, of things we’ve never before seen or imagined.”

Thus all the key milestones after liftoff were all accomplished and Ariane 5 performed flawlessly:

~9 minutes: main stage separation
~27 minutes: upper stage separation
~33 minutes: solar array deployed

 

JWST artist concept

The massive $10 Billion observatory will soon take its first steps in pursuit of cosmological discovery and explore the origins of the Universe.

But before Webb can accomplish any of its groundbreaking science it must first open up from its folded-up origami like configuration and fully deploy its antennas, sunshade and mirrors.

Think of Webb as a ‘Transformer’ in space.

The hugely complex month-long unfurling process of origami-like folded Webb starts soon in the next few days.

And it must voyage out a million miles (1.5 million km) beyond Earth to its final observing destination in a halo orbit at L2 by firing thrusters to accomplish a trio of mid course correction maneuvers

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope launched Dec. 25, 2021 at 7:20 a.m. EST on an Ariane 5 rocket from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana, on the northeastern coast of South America. Webb, a partnership with the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency, will explore every phase of cosmic history – from within our solar system to the most distant observable galaxies in the early universe. Credit: ESA/CNES/Arianespace

The first mid-course maneuver (MCC-1a) is scheduled about 12.5 hours post launch.

“The launch of the Webb Space Telescope is a pivotal moment – this is just the beginning for the Webb mission,” said Gregory L. Robinson, Webb’s program director at NASA Headquarters.

“Now we will watch Webb’s highly anticipated and critical 29 days on the edge. When the spacecraft unfurls in space, Webb will undergo the most difficult and complex deployment sequence ever attempted in space. Once commissioning is complete, we will see awe-inspiring images that will capture our imagination.”

On Saturday 11 December, 2021, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) folded for flight was placed on top of the Ariane 5 rocket that will launch it to space from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana targeted for 25 December 2021. Credit: ESA-M. Pedoussaut

Thereafter the next steps at 1 to 3 days post launch are release of motion test of the gimballed antenna assemble and start of sunshade pallet deployments and the second mid-course maneuver.

JWST is the largest, most powerful and most complex space telescope ever built.

It is also the most expensive science instrument ever costing nearly $10 Billion.

It will operate in a halo orbit at the L2 Lagrange point approx. 1 million miles (1.6 million km) from Earth after liftoff and about a 1-month journey.

It will serve as the scientific successor to NASA’s world famous and phenomenally successful Hubble Space Telescope (HST).

Webb is 100 times more powerful than Hubble and the primary mirror is 6 times bigger.

Hubble is still operating well 31 years after launch from NASA’s Space Shuttle into low Earth orbit and a series of 5 extremely complex and daring repair and upgrade missions by NASA astronauts

Webb was launched on an Ariane 5 rocket, folded up like origami inside the nose cone which measures 5.4 meters in diameter and 17 meters tall.

At some points the clearances for the intricately folded up telescope inside the Ariane 5 rockets nose cone are as little as 8 inches as the observatory shakes, rattles and rolls during blastoff.

Any damage would have doomed the observatory

So ESA and Arianespace modified the Ariane 5 nose cose and deployment to prevent catastrophe.

Credit: ESA

This NASA video details the complex deployment sequence of JWST post launch remotely controlled from Earth:

Video Caption: Engineers on the ground will remotely orchestrate a complex sequence of deployments in the hours and days immediately after the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope. This animation shows the nominal sequence for these deployments. Music Credit: Universal Production Music “Connecting Ideas Instrumental” Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

Webb is designed for a 5-year lifetime at L2.

If all goes well NASA and scientists hope it can be extended to a 10-year mission life.

Unlike Hubble, Webb is not designed for astronaut servicing to fix or upgrade the massive observatory.

Webbs primary mirror is comprised of 18 segmented gold coated individual mirror segment that measure 21.3 feet (6.5 meters) in diameter when unfurled – 6 times wider than Hubble!

Webb is equipped with 4 state-of-the-art science observing instruments.

In space it is protected by a tennis court sized sunshade of 5 layers – each the thickness of a human hair and made of Kapton.

They will be carefully deployed post launch to an area measuring 21 meters by 14 meters.

They will cool the telescope and its science instruments to near absolute zero required to operate its infrared cameras and spectrometers and so that the instruments dont detect the telescope itself from the heat it radiates thus interfering with research operations

At L2 the sunshield can always block light and heat from both the Sun and Earth from reaching the telescope and its instruments and protect the telescope’s optics from any heat sources that could interfere with its sight. Because Webb is an infrared telescope, its mirrors and sensors need to be kept at extremely cold temperatures to detect faint heat signals from distant objects in the universe and not the telescope.

There are some 344 single point failures that could doom the telescope if not accomplished successfully over the next 30 days as it journeys to its destination orbit 1 million miles (1.6 million km) away.

Next step is commissioning of the telescope and all its hardware and science instruments.

Routine operations and first images are expected to start in about 6 months.

Webb journey to L2. Webb will orbit the second Lagrange point (L2), 1.5 million kilometres (1 million miles) from Earth in the direction away from the Sun. There, its sunshield can always block light and heat from both the Sun and Earth from reaching its telescope and instruments. L2 is not a fixed point, but follows Earth around the Sun. Credit: ESA

This Ariane 5 mission is numbered VA256 by Arianespace.

The 56 m tall (180-foot-tall) two stage rocket is fueled by liquid hydrogen (LH2) and liquid oxygen (LOX).

Overall it is the 256th launch of an Ariane rocket since Dec. 24, 1979, and the 112th flight of an Ariane 5 since its debut in 1996.

I observed JWST many times while under construction at NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center in Greenbelt, MD.

This photo shows the science instrument/mirror module in the Goddard cleanroom after installation of the 18 primary mirrors was completed.

The 18-segment gold coated primary mirror of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope is raised into vertical alignment in the largest clean room at the agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, on Nov. 2, 2016.The secondary mirror mount booms are folded down into stowed for launch configuration.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/spaceupclose.com

Watch this space for my ongoing reports on JWST mission and science.

Watch Ken’s continuing reports about JWST, IXPE, DART, SpaceX Crew and Cargo Dragons, Artemis, SLS, Orion and NASA missions, Lucy Asteroid mission, SpaceX Starlink, Blue Origin and Space Tourism, Commercial Crew and Starliner and Crew Dragon and onsite for live reporting of upcoming and recent SpaceX and ULA launches including Crew 1 & 2 & 3, ISS, Solar Orbiter, Mars 2020 Perseverance and Curiosity rovers, NRO spysats and national security missions and more at the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news: www.kenkremer.com –www.spaceupclose.com – twitter @ken_kremer – email: ken at kenkremer.com

Dr. Kremer is a research scientist and journalist based in the KSC area, active in outreach and interviewed regularly on TV and radio about space topics.
………….
Ken’s photos are for sale and he is available for lectures and outreach events

Please consider supporting Ken’s work by purchasing his photos and/or donating at Patreon:

https://www.patreon.com/kenkremer

 

Ariane 5 with James Webb Space Telescope Prelaunch. Arianespace’s Ariane 5 rocket with NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope onboard, is seen at the launch pad, Thursday, Dec. 23, 2021, at Europe’s Spaceport, the Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana. The James Webb Space Telescope is a large infrared telescope with a 21.3 foot (6.5 meter) primary mirror. The observatory will study every phase of cosmic history—from within our solar system to the most distant observable galaxies in the early universe. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

 

The 18-segment gold coated primary mirror of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope is raised into vertical alignment in the largest clean room at the agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, on Nov. 2, 2016.The secondary mirror mount booms are folded down into stowed for launch configuration.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/spaceupclose.com

 

Ken Kremer/Space UpClose reflecting in the golden mirrors of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope which will peer back 13.5 Billion years to unravel the mysteries of the formation of the early Universe and tell us how our place in the Universe came to be.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/spaceupclose.com

 

NASA James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) folded for launch while inside the clean room at Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana in Nov. 2021. Credit: NASA/Chris Gunn

 

Arianespace’s Ariane 5 rocket launches with NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope onboard, Saturday, Dec. 25, 2021, from the ELA-3 Launch Zone of Europe’s Spaceport at the Guiana Space Centre in Kourou, French Guiana. The James Webb Space Telescope is a large infrared telescope with a 21.3 foot (6.5 meter) primary mirror. The observatory will study every phase of cosmic history—from within our solar system to the most distant observable galaxies in the early universe. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

 

All 18 gold coated primary mirrors of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope are seen fully unveiled after removal of protective covers installed onto the backplane structure, as technicians work inside the massive clean room at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland on May 3, 2016. The secondary mirror mount booms are folded down into stowed for launch configuration. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/spaceupclose.com

x

Ken Kremer

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite coverage of NASA, SpaceX, ULA, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and more space and mission reports direct from Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Stay tuned here for Ken's continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news. Dr. Kremer is a research scientist and journalist based in the KSC area, active in outreach and interviewed regularly on TV and radio about space topics. Ken’s photos are for sale and he is available for lectures and outreach events.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.