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It's Finally Happening: James Webb Telescope Is Fueled and Ready for Launch

After multiple hurdles, the launch is now on track.

It's Finally Happening: James Webb Telescope Is Fueled and Ready for Launch
The telescope in the fueling hall. European Space Agency

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has completed its fueling at the payload preparation facility in French Guiana, the European Space Agency (ESA) said in a press release. This is one step forward towards its planned launch later this month. 

Built by NASA, in association with the ESA and Canadian Space Agency (CSA), the telescope finally made its way to its launch by crossing the Atlantic ocean onboard a ship. However, that long arduous journey was just a small blip in the long and arduous history of the development of the telescope. Last month, we had covered that 'an incident' had further delayed the launch, luckily only by a few days. 

The stage, however, now looks set for the launch this year. The ESA has confirmed that it has completed the process of fueling the telescope with its propellants. The fueling that was completed over a period of 10 days consisted of filling 159 liters of hydrazine and 79.5 liters of dinitrogen tetroxide in two separate tanks. Dinitrogen Tetroxide is an oxidizer used to improve the burn efficiency of hydrazine fuel. 

Fueling a satellite is a delicate operation involving setting up the connections, fueling and then pressurization, the press release said. The two components are also highly toxic so limited staff with Self-Contained Atmospheric Protective Ensemble or SCAPEsuits performed this operation in a hall dedicated to fueling operations.

The telescope is now ready to be placed atop ESA's Ariane 5 launch vehicle, marking the beginning of "combined operations." This is when specialist teams of JWST and the Ariane 5, who have been working separately so far, will come together to prepare for the launch. It was during a similar process last time that an incident with the 'clamp band' caused the telescope to undergo vibrations, prompting the ESA to launch a detailed inspection of the spacecraft. 

Once inside the Ariane 5's fairing, the launch vehicle will be moved to the Final Assembly building to prepare for the launch, now scheduled for December 22. 

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