James Webb Space Telescope Set to “Revolutionize Our Understanding of the Universe” in 2021

James Webb Space Telescope Mirror Deployed

A photo of the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope after a successful deployment test of its primary mirror into the same configuration it will have when in space. Credit: NASA/Chris Gunn

The launch of the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope (Webb) on an Ariane 5 rocket from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana is now planned for October 31, 2021.

NASA has announced the decision, based on a recently completed schedule risk assessment of the remaining integration and test activities before launch, accounting for impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic and technical challenges. Previously, Webb was targeted to launch in March 2021.

Testing of the observatory continues to go well at Northrop Grumman, the mission’s main industry partner in Redondo Beach, California, despite the challenges of the coronavirus situation. The factors for the new launch date include the impacts of augmented safety precautions, reduced on-site personnel, shift work disruption and technical challenges. This year, a final set of complex environmental tests of the full observatory will be completed followed by a final deployment of the telescope and sunshield.

“Webb is an unprecedented endeavour in space science, requiring utmost ingenuity in both the scientific and technical domains, in a very strong international partnership,” said Prof. Günther Hasinger, ESA Director of Science. “The breakthrough science enabled by Webb will revolutionize our understanding of the Universe.”

James Webb Space Telescope Ariane 5 Launcher

Artist’s view of the James Webb Space Telescope on an Ariane 5 launcher. Credit: ESA – D. Ducros

The observatory will detect light from the first generation of stars and galaxies that formed in the early Universe and will study the atmospheres of habitable exoplanets.

As part of the collaboration with NASA, Europe is contributing to the Webb observatory with two critical scientific instruments — the NIRSpec spectrograph and the MIRI mid-infrared instrument — and the launch service using the Ariane 5 launch vehicle. In addition, there is a contingent of ESA scientists and engineers supporting the observatory development and science operations.

Next year, Webb will be will folded in its launch configuration for shipment to the launch site and fitted inside the Ariane 5 launcher fairing (about 5 m wide). On its journey into space, Webb will be the first mission to complete an intricate and technically challenging series of deployments — a critical part of Webb’s journey to its orbit about one and a half million kilometers from Earth. Webb will unfold its delicate five-layered sunshield until it reaches the size of a tennis court. It will then deploy its 6.5 m primary mirror that will detect the faint light of distant stars and galaxies.

Webb will be next great space science observatory, and will build on the success of another international endeavor, the Hubble Space Telescope, to solve the mysteries of our Solar System, to explore distant worlds around other stars and to uncover the origins of our Universe.

The James Webb Space Telescope is an international project led by NASA with its partners, ESA and the Canadian Space Agency.

27 Comments on "James Webb Space Telescope Set to “Revolutionize Our Understanding of the Universe” in 2021"

  1. As exciting as it is to contemplate what discoveries might come from JWST, its soaring cost, delays and poor management must not be forgotten as future programs are contemplated. And let’s don’t forget that there is still a high risk launch yet to come. JWST is an astonishing 15 years behind schedule and 2000% over budget! No matter how successful JWST might be – let us all pray for success – no future NASA program projection should be believed. I should and will limit how far NASA can take us.

    • Torbjörn Larsson | July 19, 2020 at 11:17 am | Reply

      Why would you put limits on science?

      NASA is 0.5 % of the US federal budget, military is 30 %. You can easily cut something less important than science.

      • Michael Dodge | July 19, 2020 at 8:33 pm | Reply

        I don’t see where Ed is recommending limits on the total budget– just the opposite. Better management of the JWST could have produced the same outcome (a telescope) sooner and at a lower cost. Think of all the extra projects that would have been accomplished over all these years, the discoveries that we’ve missed out on, because money had to keep being fed into JWST waste. Poor oversight has hurt science.

        • Torbjörn Larsson | July 20, 2020 at 2:08 pm | Reply

          Isn’t “no future NASA program projection should be believed. I should and will limit how far NASA can take us.” a limiting claim on the total budget?

          The telescope ambition was set by the Decadal Survey with astronomers. Complicated projects routinely go over time and cos – even building houses that are often less one offs are 60 % over budget. So I don’t see the big deal, or a reason for the threatened action. But project management can always be improved.

  2. 13 years(!) after the planned launch, the October next year “planned” launch will be yet another plan.

    There is a difference between researchers coming up with ideas and engineers and executives putting those into reality. Witness what happened to the James Webb Telescope, and contrast with the SpaceX successes.

  3. I just can’t wait til it is finally actually up in space fully functional. Wayyyyy overdue! (Understatement I know)

  4. I remember when I first heard about this in 2000 at college in my physics class. Back then it was a 10 meter mirror, with a vast array of technology. While this is indeed better than nothing, a 15 year delay, and dramatic cuts in the technology is heartbreaking.
    We had such high hopes for the next generation of space exploration and discovery.
    Don’t put this off any longer.

    • Torbjörn Larsson | July 19, 2020 at 11:19 am | Reply

      Honestly, it’s just a big IR telescope – it will help but it’s not much of a hinder. We have done lots of discoveries while this was delayed, and the folding technology can be reused in the next, larger telescope.

  5. I appreciate the hard work, creative skills and dedication to the understanding of our universe. Thanks to everyone who have dedicated their careers to this endeavor.

  6. Ya, I’m hoping I’ll still be alive when it’s launched. It’s been a long time coming. Could be great discoveries..

  7. I hope they have a secret backup JWST telescope that they built at the same time just in case something goes wrong on launch.

  8. i really wish someone would devlope a actually working model of the universe, galaxy , and cosmos. With the actually known movements between each other. Also it has to be expandable , .because our understanding is like preschoolers . Think of the traffic you.d have on the web site especially if it was marketed right

  9. Wilber Arron | July 20, 2020 at 6:40 am | Reply

    I am sorry but NASA has just fallen apart. I think they have as much chance of launching the James Webb telescope as getting their large one shot booster to work, or their Orion capsule to fly. All projects are decades late and billions over budget. NASA has lost the abilty to manage projects. NASA has lost ahe ability to explore space. I am sorry, but at this point it needs to be handed over to private industry. NASA needs to be a research and development organization like DARPA. Anything else let the private community handle it. I think NASA is the white cow that cerrtain companies milk for profit.

    • Torbjörn Larsson | July 20, 2020 at 2:15 pm | Reply

      ISS is up there doing invaluable research, now with Commercial Cargo and Crew access that NASA specified and payed for, so it looks nice from where I sit when looking at the science.

  10. Steve, someone has developed a working model of the galaxies anyway. Ben Davidson. Genius work at his spaceweather YouTube channel called SuspiciousObservers. There is a bit of catastrophizing you have to get over in order to watch but his ability to cull essential data from peer reviewed papers in order to create likely overviews of the mechanisms of this electromagnetic plasma medium we travel through is quite something. Enjoy!

    • Torbjörn Larsson | July 20, 2020 at 2:18 pm | Reply

      You are parading pseudoscience around on a science site. No one is enjoying that.

      • To the accomplished but rigid mathematician: It is truly unfortunate that “scientists” often think that physics and astrophysics and systems mechanisms are deserved to be accessible to, or of interest only by those with a certain academic pedigee. A) I highly doubt you have ever watched one of Ben’s “science for all” spaceweather videos because if you had you would have seen the enormous amount of current hard data he presents including by accredited scientists whom he gives props to all the way. There have been moments through the years he has been way off but I’d bet the hallowed mathematician has also suffered a few of these moments as well.
        2) Remember, Arthur C. Clarke was not a scientist yet he inspired thousands of dreamers to go on to create the internet, something he saw decades before anyone else and was eventually made an honoree and consultant at NASA.
        3) Which Apple cofounder was it that didn’t graduate high school again? Please remind me. Some people are just born with heightened abilities of perception.
        4) By all evidence we have entered a catastrophe cycle. While it is true we as a species have been horrible stewards and have also weakened the Earth’s defense mechanisms this does not render galactic changes and impact neutral. Our planet’s degradation is not mutually exclusive to this one reason. We just ain’t that mighty.

        Open your minds, prepare, the earth’s catastrophe cycle has begun and the way to better understand it is by watching Ben’s vlogs. Humbling stuff. I can think of a few white men who could use a little of that. The inconvenient truth is that space travel may be untenable for decades due to electro magnetic weakening and a stronger electrified field in space due to our solar system carouselling up into the highly electrified Galactic current sheet or torus really. Unless of course some of you geniuses comes up with a way to coast on electromagnetic currents that is. Or maybe inside a Birkland tube. Get on it will ya?

        Not to beat a bucking bronco but Venus, Mars, the Sun, all have had obvious atmospheric changes in the last couple of years, visibly intensifying all of their near space environs at about the same time our jet streams went haywire and no one lives on any of those stars or planets or whatever they are calling Pluto which also lost some or all of its atmosphere this year. Hmmm what could be the cause these profound changes you ask? It can’t be manmade. Why are the poles wandering? If you see the whole Galaxy (really all galaxies) as one big torus jet model and understand that the arm of the galaxy we are positioned in moves in a carouselling motion, not as a presumed disk, then the obvious conclusion is that at some point we will rise or fall though the torus, a big donut made of electricity. What causes continents to move, to fall to the bottom of the ocean, to rip away atmospheres and flash freeze giant wooly mammoths in an instant? What causes planets to be flung from their near star orbits to crash into a planet and form a satelite moon like Theia is presumed to have done to our beautiful Terra billions of years ago. Something much bigger than us, but enjoy the wandering aurora and sprites in the meantime.

        If you still lack belief in this highly plausible scenario why you just track all of the ice ages and look at the uncannily even spread yourself, or if you are smart, you will delegate it to someone who has already done the legwork at SuspiciousObservers on YouTube. Skol.

  11. Wilber, let’s hope Nasa is smart and sends their most costly payload up with the pros at SpaceX.

  12. If it ever launches. Also, let us not forget that it is based on technology already a quarter of a century old, in some cases. Unless it launches soon, it might be simpler and cheaper just to ditch it and design one based on more recent and powerful technologies.

    • Torbjörn Larsson | July 20, 2020 at 2:20 pm | Reply

      They have up to date instruments though (such as the coronagraph), and the folding technique is still a pre runner that we want to see in next generation telescopes. So I dunno how a redesign would help.

      Remaining cost is lower than a new instrument.

  13. I hope this DIA (done in august, done in april ) project actual does make finely one day

  14. Steve, someone has developed a working model of the galaxies anyway. Ben Davidson. Genius work at his spaceweather YouTube channel called SuspiciousObservers. There is a bit of catastrophizing you have to get over in order to watch but his ability to cull essential data from peer reviewed papers in order to create likely overviews of the mechanisms of this electromagnetic plasma medium we travel through is quite something.

    Don’t let old school fools deter you from opening your mind. I am reminded of those who doubted Tesla, Gallileo, Newton….by outspoken doubters probably desperate to save their funding for extremely expensive red herring projects such as the hunt for dark matter. My message to Thorn or Bjork or whomever is “OK Boomer.”

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