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The James Webb Space Telescope


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  • Location: Camborne
  • Location: Camborne

The holiday season is almost upon us, but for astronomers of all creeds, there is only one date this winter that matters: December 22nd. That is the new scheduled launch date of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), an instrument set to revolutionise practically every part of space science.

First proposed in the mid-1990s, it was originally supposed to launch in 2004. But the telescope was held back by the fact that the technologies necessary for its deployment weren’t actually invented until 2007. Further delays ensued. At last, earlier this year, the completed observatory was shipped to the spaceport of Kourou in French Guiana, ready for its 1.5m km journey. It was late, and its cost was $9.7bn up from an original estimate of $0.5bn, but at least it had a launch date: December 18th. Astronomers were ready to celebrate. Then, on Monday night, a clamp malfunction led to a further delay. 

It is easy to understand why the telescope has generated so much excitement. It is larger and more powerful than its predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope, and thus able to see light emitted by objects too old and too distant for that instrument to spot. That means it could see the first stars to switch on in a pitch-black universe, a moment known as the cosmic dawn. Over time it will shed light on the identity of dark energy and dark matter—those mysterious substances that make up 95% of the universe’s content—and give improved images of everything from black holes to exoplanets capable of sustaining life.

For many in the field, however, this anticipation is tinged with a deep embarrassment at the project’s massive delays and budgetary overruns. These have had serious consequences: other scientific projects have been shelved or delayed, scientists have waited decades for long-promised data and future experiments are likely to be given a much tougher ride before getting funding.

There are signs change is coming. NASA, which was the leading partner on the development of the JWST, has changed its project management guidelines to ensure that budgets and timelines are more deeply researched and grounded in reality, and greater reserves of time and money are factored into new proposals. The National Academy of Sciences, meanwhile, which produces a report every decade on the future of American astronomy (and listed the JWST as a high priority 20 years ago) has recommended clear deadlines be established for large-scale projects, with the penalty of cancellation should they not be met. It has also emphasised the importance of smaller observatories, many of which have been overshadowed by the likes of JWST.

There have, though, been upsides to the delays. Scientific experiments that were inconceivable at the time of JWST’s creation have had time to develop and become integrated into the project. Exoplanet science, for example, was virtually non-existent at the time the project was mooted. It is now one of the core scientific pillars of the telescope. It might even, perhaps, in this new golden age of space travel, be possible to send a refuelling vessel to extend its lifetime once its on-board supply runs out.

Though its upcoming launch is a relief to many, the harsh reality is that JWST should either have gone into space years ago, or else been cancelled. The evidence is plain that it was an overambitious project whose true costs were never fully appreciated. NASA’s business, it is often said, involves taking the fiction out of science fiction. This is not achievable by being under-ambitious. But those who oversee such projects should ensure that the fiction, looking for somewhere convenient to hide, does not slip into the planning documents instead.

Simply Science - The Economist

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  • 1 month later...
  • Location: Cheslyn Hay, South Staffs.
  • Weather Preferences: Snow during Winter, Thunder during Summer.
  • Location: Cheslyn Hay, South Staffs.

Here's a link to the current distance, upcoming deployments etc:


'WhereIsWebb' shows the status of Webb on its journey to L2 orbit. The page constantly updates as Webb travels, deploys, and cools to operating temperature. The most recently completed deployment step for Webb is...

And this link is to the Deep Space Network, Madrid currently has the up/down link to the JWST, among others Voyager 2 was comms the other day:


The real time status of communications with our deep space explorers


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  • 6 months later...
  • Location: Yorkshire Wolds
  • Weather Preferences: Hot sun, storms & ‘Oh no can’t go into work - snowed in’ days
  • Location: Yorkshire Wolds

Am loving the first images from the James Webb telescope, shared yesterday. There is just so much to see, so many galaxies!!


A developing gallery of images featuring astronomical observations and informative science content around the Webb telescope (JWST) mission.


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