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Image Credit: NASA/Chris Gunn.

James Webb has official launch date and Ariane 5 components arrive in French Guiana

The European Space Agency announced earlier today, September 08, 2021, that the James Webb Space Telescope, the successor to the legendary Hubble Space Telescope, is now offically scheduled to launch on December 18, 2021 atop an Ariane 5 rocket from the Guiana Space Centre in French Guiana.

Ahead of the launch, the core stage, upper stage and the two payload fairing halves of the Ariane 5 launcher arrived at the Pariacabo harbour in French Guiana on September 03. There, the components were unloaded from the MN Toucan cargo vessel and transported to the spaceport by road. Over the next couple of weeks, all systems will be checked and the rocket stacked and prepared for its flight to space.

The MN Toucan arrives in French Guiana with the major components of James Webb's Ariane 5 rocket. Image Credit: ESA/CNES/Arianespace.
The MN Toucan arrives in French Guiana with the major components of James Webb’s Ariane 5 rocket. Image Credit: ESA/CNES/Arianespace.

The James Webb Space Telescope

The James Webb Space Telescope, or JWST for short, is a large infrared space telescope operated by NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). The spacecraft will be launched into space atop an European Ariane 5 rocket and will be positioned at the Sun-Earth L2 Lagrange point, 1.5 million kilometers from Earth. From this location, James Webb will study the universe in the near-infrared and mid-infrared wavelengths at a never before seen resolution.

To operate at perfect conditions and sensitivity, Webb will be cooled down to -233 °C by deploying a sunshield to block heat and light from the Sun, Earth and the Moon. Due to the telescope’s extreme complexity, the JWST is expected to begin scientific operations about six months after its launch.

The James Webb Space Telescope and its deployed sunshield seen during testing. Image Credit: NASA/Chris Gunn.
The James Webb Space Telescope and its deployed sunshield seen during testing. Image Credit: NASA/Chris Gunn.

The Ariane 5 launch vehicle

The Ariane 5 is a two-stage, heavy-lift launch vehicle operated by Arianespace. The vehicle is up to 57.72 m in length, 11.50 m in diameter and has a launch mass of 775 tonnes. The rocket is composed of the 31 m tall EPC core stage with its single Vulcain 2 engine, two large solid rocket boosters attached to the EPC, a 4.71 m tall and 19 tonnes heavy cryogenic second stage and a up to 20 m high payload fairing. The equipment bay with the rocket’s onboard computer is located atop the ESC-D upper stage.

The maiden flight of the rocket occurred on June 4, 1996 and the Ariane 5 has since flown over 100 times. Europe’s workhorse mainly launches heavy geostationary satellites into orbit, but has previously also flown several space probes like Rosetta and BepiColombo into deep space, as well as the uncrewed ATV resupply freighters to the International Space Station (ISS). Later this year, an Ariane 5 is scheduled to launch the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), the successor to the legendary Hubble Space Telescope, into space.

An Ariane 5 blasts off from French Guiana. Image Credit: ESA–Stephane Corvaja, 2016.
An Ariane 5 blasts off from French Guiana. Image Credit: ESA–Stephane Corvaja, 2016.

Sources:

https://www.esa.int/ESA_Multimedia/Keywords/Description/Cargo_Vessel/(result_type)/images

https://www.esa.int/Science_Exploration/Space_Science/Webb/Targeted_launch_date_for_Webb_18_December_2021

https://www.esa.int/Enabling_Support/Space_Transportation/Launch_vehicles/Ariane_5_ECA2

https://www.esa.int/Enabling_Support/Space_Transportation/Launch_vehicles/Ariane_5

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