A vessel safely delivered major elements of the Ariane 5 rocket, which will launch the James Webb Space Telescope, to a port in French Guiana on September 3, the European Space Agency (ESA) announced on Tuesday. The targeted launch date is 18 December 2021.
As part of an international collaboration agreement, ESA is providing the telescope’s launch service using the Ariane 5 launch vehicle. The rocket’s parts will be prepared for assembly and integration before Webb is mounted on top.
Webb will be the largest, most powerful telescope ever launched into space. Scientists and astronomers will use It to peer farther into our origins, discovering how stars and planets are formed and the first galaxies from the early universe were born. The project is an international partnership between NASA, ESA and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).
Ariane 5’s fairing, upper stage and core stage arrived at Kourou from Europe, unloaded onto the port and transported via a special convoy to Europe’s Spaceport about 3 km away from the wharf.
The first Ariane rocket launched from the same Spaceport in 1979. As satellites grew larger, more powerful iterations were designed. Ariane 5 is a heavy-lift rocket that can carry multiple payloads to any orbit.
During liftoff and ascent through the atmosphere, Webb will be stowed inside the fairing, the part responsible for protecting it from environmental damage. RUAG Space built Ariane 5’s fairing in Switzerland. Made of a carbon fibre-polymer composite, 5.4 m in diameter and over 17 m high, it will shield Webb from thermal, acoustic, and aerodynamic stresses.
The upper stage was built by ArianeGroup in Germany. It will give Ariane 5 the flexibility to deploy scientific payloads to a highly precise orbit. Its engine burns 14.7 tons of liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen propellant. The Vehicle Equipment Bay, ‘the brain,’autonomously controls the whole vehicle and transmits all key flight parameters to the ground station network. The upper stage also provides attitude control during the ascent and the separation of Webb.
The cryogenic core stage, built by ArianeGroup in France, is 5.4 m diameter and 30.5 m long and unfuelled weighs more than 14 tonnes. At liftoff, its engine burns 175 tons of liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen propellants to deliver 140 tons of thrust. It also provides roll control during the main propulsion phase.
In preparation for the Webb mission, ESA worked with its partners to make adaptations to Ariane 5. New hardware will ensure that venting ports around the base of the fairing remain fully open, minimizing the shock of depressurization when the fairing jettisons away from the launch vehicle. Additionally, an extra battery was installed on the rocket to allow a boost to the upper stage after release of the telescope, distancing it from Webb.