JWST launch contract awarded

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Uncertainty about the intended timing of the launch of the James Webb space telescope has been removed.

Arianespace,the company that launches many of the world’s satellites, was awarded the launch contract this month.

The JWST launch is planned to take place during October 2018 from French Guiana.

This is a most exciting mission, with the information it may reveal for humanity on a scale similar to that delivered by the Hubble space telescope. Space missions can take several decades to plan before they become real. The Hubble space telescope mission launched in 1990, had its planning rooted in the early 1970s. Likewise, JWST planning began in the early 1990s.

Unlike the Hubble space telescope which has been in low earth orbit for 25 years now, the JWST will be sent to an orbit 1.5 million km from earth, away from the Sun with the ability to peer deep into the universe to catch the first light.

Its mission is to detect early galaxies that formed soon after the big bang - objects that the Hubble space telescope is unable to “see” because of its technological limits. It is also hoped that the JWST will provide greater insight into other planets in our universe. Astronomy research in the last few years has revealed there are potentially more planets than stars in the Milky Way galaxy.

As for the JWST launch contract, the contractor, Arianespace, “guarantees” its transportation services (www.arianespace.com). This company has launched 500+ satellites into orbit over its 35 year history.

The JWST is potentially the most valuable cargo to be launched on behalf of humanity - in that it is likely to reveal more specific details about the origins of the universe and answers to that of the burning question, “are we alone?”. This company has a mighty responsibility in a high risk industry.

We wish you every success with the launch, especially given the collective human effort involved over 20+ years.

Image credit: NASA, launch location.