Ahead of the upcoming Ariane 5 launch of the James Webb Space Telescope, the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission takes us over Kourou – home to Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana, an overseas department of France.
Located around 60 km northwest of the French Guianese capital Cayenne, Kourou is a coastal town in the north-central part of the country and is visible in the lower right of the image. The town lies at the estuary of the Kourou River which, after its journey of 144 km, empties into the Atlantic Ocean. Its muddy waters appear brown most likely due to sediments picked up from the surrounding forest.
Long, white sandy beaches line the town’s ocean coast, while the riverbank and inland area consists mostly of mangrove and dense tropical rainforest. The surrounding area’s economy is largely agricultural, with coffee, cacao, and tropical fruits being grown.
Just northwest of Kourou lies Europe’s Spaceport – chosen as a base from which to launch satellites in 1964 by the French Government, and currently home to ESA-developed rocket families Ariane and Vega.
As Kourou lies just 500 km north of the equator, it makes it ideally placed for launches into orbit as the rockets gain extra performance thanks to a ‘slingshot effect’ from the speed of Earth’s rotation. In addition, there is no risk of cyclones or earthquakes. This launch base and the jungle that surrounds it covers 690 sq km and protects an abundance of wildlife and plants.
From here, the largest and most powerful telescope ever launched into space – the James Webb Space Telescope – is scheduled for launch. After liftoff, it will embark on a month-long journey to its destination, around one and a half million kilometers from Earth.
Following the footsteps of the Hubble Space Telescope, Webb is designed to answer questions about the Universe and to make breakthrough discoveries in all fields of astronomy. The telescope will be able to detect infrared light generated by galaxies as they formed more than 13.5 billion years ago, in the aftermath of the Big Bang. Webb will see farther into our origins – from the Universe’s first galaxies, to the birth of stars and planets, to exoplanets.
In the first month after launch, Webb will unfold its sunshield, which is around the size of a tennis court, and deploy its 6.5-meter primary mirror. This will be used to detect the faint light of distant stars and galaxies with a sensitivity of a hundred times greater than that of Hubble.
Webb is a joint project between NASA, ESA and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).