Home straight for James Webb: the space telescope has arrived in Guyana

The James Webb Space Telescope arrived in Guyana on October 12. He will leave Earth two months later. Direction deep space, 1.5 million kilometers away.

That’s it, we’re really entering the very home straight for the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope. This cutting-edge scientific equipment, which will be deployed very far in space, 1.5 million kilometers from Earth, has just arrived safely. Literally, moreover: the machine completed its journey at sea by docking at the port of Pariacabo, located in Kourou, in French Guiana.

The arrival of the telescope in Guyana was confirmed on October 12 by the European Space Agency. For such a journey for the device, which is nevertheless American-made? Because it is precisely the Old Continent which will be responsible for sending it into space. The launch of the Ariane 5 rocket which will be requisitioned for this mission is scheduled for December 2021. Except for the umpteenth postponement.

An illustration by James Webb. One distinguishes the particular structure of its segmented mirrors. // Source: Naa’s James Webb Space Telescope/Pierre Vuaillet

Two months of intense preparations before the flight

It may seem odd to have the telescope come to Guyana so early when the flight is not scheduled for two months. This is to forget that there is a succession of stages to be taken from here on. First of all, all the teams will be mobilized to ensure that James Webb has supported his sea voyage and that he has not suffered any damage, whether on his segmented mirrors or on the rest of his structure.

This work, which must be meticulous, will then be followed by the preparation aimed at installing the machine in Ariane 5. Here too, infinite precautions must be taken to avoid any bad maneuver which could damage the launcher and the telescope. This phase should in principle take place one week before firing. Then, the telescope is enclosed in the fairing and the rocket is brought the day before firing to the launch pad.

Sometimes mistakenly presented as the successor to the famous Hubble, the James Webb telescope is eagerly awaited by the astronomical community, because it has exceptional qualities in the observation of infrared and technical capabilities to generate photographs of extreme finesse at a faster pace. In other words, he will see further into space and faster.

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