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James Webb Space Telescope news

Webb passes key launch clearance review

Ariane 5 rocket

Credit: ESA/D. Ducros

The international James Webb Space Telescope mission has successfully passed the final mission analysis review for its launch on an Ariane 5 rocket from Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana.

This major milestone, carried out by the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Webb launch service provider Arianespace, confirms that the Ariane 5 rocket, the Webb spacecraft and the flight plan are set for launch. It also specifically provides the final confirmation that all aspects of the launch vehicle and spacecraft are fully compatible.

During launch, the spacecraft experiences a range of mechanical forces, vibrations, temperature changes, and electromagnetic radiation. All technical evaluations performed by Arianespace on the mission's key aspects, including the launch trajectory and payload separation, have shown positive results.

Ariane 5 will deliver the telescope directly into a precision transfer orbit towards its destination, the second Lagrange point (L2). After separation from the launcher, Webb will continue its four-week-long journey to L2 alone. L2 is four times farther away than the Moon, 1.5 million kilometres from Earth in the direction away from the Sun.

Set for launch in fall 2021, Webb will be the largest, most powerful telescope ever launched into space. It is an international partnership between NASA, ESA and the Canadian Space Agency. ESA is procuring the Ariane 5 launcher and the launch services as part of its contribution. Canada contributed the Fine Guidance Sensor and the NIRISS science instrument.

Webb's golden mirror wings open one last time on Earth

Webb's golden mirror

Credit: NASA/Chris Gunn

For the last time while it is on Earth, the world's largest and most powerful space science telescope opened its iconic primary mirror. This event marked a key milestone in preparing the observatory for launch later this year.

As part of the final tests of NASA's James Webb Space Telescope, the 6.5-metre mirror was commanded to fully expand and lock itself into place, just like it would in space. The conclusion of this test represents the team's final checkpoint in a long series of tests designed to ensure Webb's 18 hexagonal mirrors are prepared for a long journey in space, and a life of profound discovery. After this, all of Webb's many movable parts will have confirmed in testing that they can perform their intended operations after being exposed to the expected launch environment.

To observe objects in the distant cosmos, and to do science that's never been done before, Webb's mirror needs to be so large that it cannot fit inside any rocket available in its fully extended form. Like a piece of origami artwork, Webb contains many movable parts that have been specifically designed to fold themselves into a compact formation that is considerably smaller than when the observatory is fully deployed.

Following this test, engineers will immediately move on to tackle Webb's final few tests, which include extending and then restowing two radiator assemblies that help the observatory cool down, and one full extension and restowing of its deployable tower.

Who will be among the first astronomers to peer into the universe with the Webb Telescope?

The Spider Nebula

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/2MASS

Preparations are in full swing for the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope this fall, including the allocation of observing time so that the worldwide astronomical community can begin making remarkable discoveries.

Following a rigorous selection process, 286 proposals were selected for Webb's first year of operations, including ten principal investigators and 72 contributions of co-investigators from Canada. They will be some of the first astronomers in the world to study celestial targets with the most advanced space telescope ever built. Their work will help them discover other worlds, such as exoplanets, learn more about the lifecycles of stars, and paint a picture of the early universe and of galaxies as they evolve through time.

Principal investigators from Canada

  • Loïc Albert, Université de Montréal
  • Lisa Dang, McGill University
  • Maria Drout, University of Toronto
  • Olivia Lim, Université de Montréal
  • John Mackereth, Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics
  • Cemile Marsan, York University
  • Stefan Pelletier, Université de Montréal
  • Erik Rosolowsky, University of Alberta
  • James Sikora, Bishop's University
  • Matthew Taylor, NRC Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics

More than 1,000 proposals from 44 countries were submitted to the Webb Telescope mission officials in order to obtain a portion of the 6,000 observing hours available in Webb's first year of operations. The selection process was conducted by the Telescope Allocation Committee (TAC), which is made up of nearly 200 experts from the worldwide astronomical community, including about a dozen Canadian astronomers. The TAC presented its recommendations to the Director of the Space Telescope Science Institute. A similar selection process will be conducted on a yearly basis while Webb is operational.

An international collaboration between NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency, the James Webb Space Telescope is the most complex and powerful space telescope ever built. Canada contributed two key elements to Webb: the Fine Guidance Sensor (FGS) and the Near-Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph (NIRISS). In exchange for that contribution, Canadian researchers will have access to 5% of the observing time available to the international community.

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