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NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope finally launches to space

After numerous delays and budget overshoots, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has finally launched to space.

NASA’s new JWST, the most powerful telescope ever, is now on its way to space, where it will expand our frontier of the knowledge of the universe. The space observatory took off atop an Ariane 5 rocket in French Guiana, South America.

This mission launch, named after a former NASA administrator, signifies the beginning of an anticipated NASA space effort in decades. This single piece of hardware will radically change how we study the universe.

The launch has had the development team holding their breath as the telescope had to survive all the vibrations with no damage.

However, while the launch has been deemed a success, there are still many hurdles for the JWST to face before it becomes operational. It will take up to a month to reach its destination about one million miles away from Earth. The distance is necessary so that it can see far into space. During this time, the telescope will unfold into its full dimensions. The observation station had to be folded o fit into the payload space on the launch rocket.

The unfolding process is fraught with many risks as many things could go wrong, dooming the mission. Hundreds of failure points have to be overcome within the next few weeks before it can be finally declared a successful mission.

The JWST is more powerful than the iconic Hubble Space Telescope, still in operation. The new telescope has a mirror that is 6.5 meters wide plated with gold. It is equipped to gather infrared light from almost 14 billion light-years ago. Basically, when you observe a star in the sky, you are looking at the shape it was billions of years ago because of the time it takes for light to travel down to the Earth. In fact, some stars might be long ‘dead’ before we see them.

Looking 14 billion years back could mean the JWST will see the Big Bang that some astronomers believe gave birth to the universe.

The JWST will see more than the stars from the past as it will observe all types of cosmic objects, including the ones that have intrigued scientists for many years, like distant worlds (perhaps it will sight aliens?), black holes, far away galaxies, etc. Our new eye in space could even capture collisions between stars.

Scientists are also hoping to see things they cannot even think of right now.

Compared to the Hubble Space Telescope, JWST is a massive improvement. The older telescope is a lot nearer to us, with missions to carry out repairs undertaken by astronauts. It has been in the Earth’s orbit since 1990. The JWST cannot be visited yet by humans, based on the available technology. This is another reason NASA engineers have taken their time to get the new telescope ready.

While the Hubble telescope is powerful, it pales beside the JWST, which promises to be between 10 and 100 times more sensitive. In fact, NASA boasts the telescope can detect infrared emissions from a bumblebee flying on the moon!

The JWST was scheduled to launch in 2007 at a budget of $1 billion. Work started in 1996 but experienced many technical difficulties along the way, with the budget ballooning. The final cost now sits close to $10 billion.

JWST has already deployed its solar panels to harvest energy from the sun, with its high gain antennae to follow sometime tomorrow for communication with the command center. Other components will slowly deploy as the telescope makes its way to its position.

One of the most crucial deployments is the sun shield, consisting of five layers of a material known as Kapton. It works to keep the telescope at the very low temperature it needs to detect infrared light.

After adjusting itself into the desired orbit and passing final checks, the JWST will work for between five and ten years until it runs out of fuel. It will always face away from the sun.

The first images may arrive in six months.

Written by HackerVibes

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