The world’s most powerful space telescope will explode at its outpost 1.5 million kilometers (930,000 miles) away from Earth on Saturday after several delays due to technical glitches.
The James Webb Space Telescope, built in nearly three decades and billions of dollars, will keep the Earth bound by its Ariane 5 rocket from the Cauro Space Center in French Guiana.
After 9:20 a.m. (1220 GMT), the launch, scheduled in a short window, will send the telescope into its distant orbit for a month-long journey.
It is hoped that new clues will return that will help scientists understand more about the origin of the universe and Earth-like planets outside our solar system.
Named after a former NASA director, the web legend follows in the footsteps of Hubble – but wants to show people what the universe looked like about 14 billion years ago near its birth.
Speaking on social media, John Mather, co-founder of the web project, described the telescope’s unprecedented sensitivity.
“#JWST can see the thermal signature of a bumblebee in the distance of the moon,” he said.
All of this energy is needed to detect the existence of the first galaxy billions of years ago and the weak glow emitted by the first star.
The telescope is unequal in size and complexity.
Its mirror is 6.5 meters (21 feet) in diameter – three times the size of the Hubble mirror – and is made up of 18 hexagonal sections. It was so big that it had to be folded to fit the rocket.
That technique was laser-guided by imposing strict isolation measures to limit any contact with NASA particles or even human-to-telescope mirrors.
Once the rockets have traveled 120 kilometers to the web, the craft’s protective nose, called the “fairing”, is set to lighten the load.
To protect the subtle device from pressure changes at that stage, rocket-builder Aryanspace has installed a custom decompression system. “Exceptional arrangements for an exceptional client,” an official from the European Space Agency said in Cairo on Thursday.
About 28 minutes after launch, the crew on the ground will know if the first stage of the flight was successful. Once it reaches its station, the challenge will be to fully mirror and place a tennis-court-shaped sun shield.
This terribly complicated process will take two weeks and the web must be flawless if it is to function properly. Its orbit will be much farther than that of Hubble, which has been 600 km above the Earth since 1990.
The position of the web’s orbit is called Lagrange 2 point and it was chosen partly because it would place the earth, sun and moon on the same side of its solar slope. Webb is expected to officially enter service in June.
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