James Webb Telescope Arrives at Spaceport Ahead of Launch

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James Webb Telescope Arrives at Spaceport Ahead of Launch

After a 16-day ocean voyage spanning 5,800 miles, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) arrived safely at French Guiana Tuesday, where it is being prepared for launch from Europe’s Spaceport.

The telescope left from California, squeezed through the Panama Canal, and then curved around the northeastern coast of South America before reaching its final destination at Port de Pariacabo on the Kourou River. It will be driven to the spaceport, where it will begin two months of operational preparations before its launch on an Ariane 5 rocket, scheduled for December 18.

James Webb Telescope Arrives at Spaceport Ahead of Launch
James Webb Space Telescope Launch Timeline/ESA

Webb is the largest, most powerful space telescope ever built. Once operational, it will reveal insights about all phases of cosmic history, reaching back to just after the big bang, and will help search for signs of potential habitability among the thousands of exoplanets scientists have discovered in recent years. Using longer wavelength coverage and greater sensitivity than the Hubble Space Telescope, it can peer into the beginning of time and look for the unobserved formation of the first galaxies.

James Webb Telescope Arrives at Spaceport Ahead of Launch
Gregory Robinson

“Webb’s arrival at the launch site is a momentous occasion,” said Gregory Robinson, Webb’s program director at NASA Headquarters. “We are very excited to finally send the world’s next great observatory into deep space. Webb has crossed the country and traveled by sea. Now it will take its ultimate journey by rocket one million miles from Earth to capture stunning images of the first galaxies in the early universe that are certain to transform our understanding of our place in the cosmos.”

The mission is an international collaboration led by NASA in partnership with the European and Canadian space agencies.

After removing Webb from its shipping container, engineers will run final checks on its condition. It will then be configured for flight, which entails loading the spacecraft with propellants before mounting the telescope on top of the rocket and enclosing it within the fairing.

James Webb Telescope Arrives at Spaceport Ahead of Launch
Bill Nelson

“The James Webb Space Telescope is a colossal achievement, built to transform our view of the universe and deliver amazing science,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “Webb will look back over 13 billion years to the light created just after the big bang, with the power to show humanity the farthest reaches of space that we have ever seen. We are now very close to unlocking mysteries of the cosmos, thanks to the skills and expertise of our phenomenal team.”

Webb’s latest trip across the ocean comprised just one part of a multi-year journey around the United States. Beginning its assembly in 2013 at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, the telescope was shipped to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston in 2017 for cryogenic testing at the “Chamber A” test facility, famous for its use during the Apollo missions.

In 2018, Webb moved to Northrop Grumman’s Space Park in California, where it underwent rigorous testing that finished in August of this year. Its handlers then spent nearly a month folding, stowing and preparing it for shipment to South America in a custom-built, environmentally controlled container

Late in the evening on September 24, police escorted Webb through the streets of Los Angeles, arriving at Naval Weapons Station Seal Beach. There, it was loaded onto the MN Colibri, a French-flagged cargo ship that has previously transported satellites and spaceflight hardware to Kourou. The MN Colibri departed Seal Beach Sunday, Sept. 26 and entered the Panama Canal Tuesday, Oct. 5 on its way to Kourou.

James Webb Telescope Arrives at Spaceport Ahead of Launch
Thomas Zurbuchen

“A talented team across America, Canada, and Europe worked together to build this highly complex observatory. It’s an incredible challenge – and very much worthwhile. We are going to see things in the universe beyond what we can even imagine today,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “Now that Webb has arrived in Kourou, we’re getting it ready for launch in December – and then we will watch in suspense over the next few weeks and months as we launch and ready the largest space telescope ever built.”

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