NASA's James Webb Space Telescope Has Finally Arrived in Orbit

Now the fun begins.
Brad Bergan

NASA works!

NASA's James Webb Space Telescope has finally inserted itself into its final operational orbit in space, where it will continue at a permanent distance of roughly 1 million miles from our planet, and enjoy the best view of the oldest galaxies and stars in the observable universe, according to a blog post on NASA's official website.

And, soon, the real fun will begin.

NASA's James Webb Space Telescope made it all the way to L2

At roughly 2:00 PM EST on Monday, the Webb telescope made a nearly five-minute thruster burn (297 seconds, to be exact), which brought it into its final postlaunch course. This marked the spacecraft's insertion into its final orbit around the second Lagrange point (L2) between the sun and the Earth, where it can orbit without any additional thrusters, held in place by the forces of gravity, nearly 1 million miles away from us. This last mid-course burn only increased the spacecraft's speed by roughly 3.6 mph (5.8 km/h), which is roughly walking speed, but this additional bump was all Webb needed to successfully enter its "halo" orbit around the L2 point.

"Webb, welcome home!" said Bill Nelson, NASA's Administrator on the event, in the blog post. "Congratulations to the team for all of their hard work ensuring Webb's safe arrival at L2 today. We're one step closer to uncovering the mysteries of the universe. And I can't wait to see Webb's first new views of the universe this summer!" Webb launched on Christmas Day, and its journey was one of the greatest adventures any spacecraft has ever taken. The craft was too large to fly in its final configuration, which forced it to launch in a folded configuration.

Webb completes its final, crucial insertion into L2

Once it reached the big black abyssal depths, it began to unfurl, changing shape in a cosmic choreography never attempted before. But the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) did it without a single hitch, achieving every milestone deployment on Jan. 8, and completing its full configuration. It sounds magical, but this was raw, unadulterated science and engineering. And the humans behind it were all-nerves through every deployment, because every single step had to go perfectly for the space telescope to be successfully installed in space. For example, if it couldn't slow down earlier today, the spacecraft might have entered an incorrect orbit, or missed the L2 altogether, veering off into space, and eventually, oblivion.

That didn't happen, which left the world with an unprecedented and unspeakably advanced astronomic platform in the best seats near Earth to view the universe. "During the past month, JWST has achieved amazing success and is a tribute to all the folks who spent many years and even decades to ensure mission success," said Bill Ochs, NASA's project manager for Webb, at Goddard Space Flight Center, in the blog post. After a month of teeth-clenching benchmarks, Webb completed the final benchmark. At roughly 2:00 PM EST, Webb fired up its thrusters for roughly 5 minutes, in the last of three course correction burns, slowing itself into a nice, casual orbit around L2. Which means that soon, the next generation of space-based astronomy will begin.

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