NASA Is Preparing to Launch James Webb Space Telescope

The space telescope has just completed testing.
Fabienne Lang
James Webb Space Telescope.Chris Gunn/NASA

Following inevitable snags and delays, NASA's James Webb Space Telescope (Webb) is getting closer and closer to its launch site and date, as the American space agency just confirmed it completed its final tests.

In a press release published on Thursday, August 26, NASA shared the news that its upcoming space telescope is getting ready to be shipped to its launch site in Kourou, French Guiana. Shipping preparations are set to be completed in September.

Webb is currently being prepped for its journey from its testing site at the Northrop Grumman facilities through the Panama Canal to French Guiana, where it'll be carefully checked over for any damages incurred during its travels. From there, engineers will mate the observatory to its launch vehicle, ESA's Ariane 5 rocket, before it's launched into space. 

"NASA's James Webb Space Telescope has reached a major turning point on its path toward launch with the completion of final observatory integration and testing," said Gregory L. Robinson, Webb's program director at NASA Headquarters in Washington. 

To ensure that Webb's complex space communications network functions as planned, Webb’s Mission Operations Center (MOC) at the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore will continuously check and recheck it before and during the shipment operations.

There's still a lot of preparation and checking to be done before we see Webb launch into space, but integration and testing are formally, and successfully, completed. The next major step in Webb's journey will be its launch and deployment. 

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Aside from Webb's capabilities, what's also impressive is the science observatory's team including thousands of scientists, engineers, and other professionals from more than 14 countries and 29 states.

Once Webb is deployed

As soon as it's launched, Webb will get straight to work on a six-month commissioning period. After a speedy 26-minute ride aboard the Ariane 5 rocket, Webb will separate from its launch vehicle and automatically deploy its solar array. The following deployments will be handled by ground control. 

Webb will head to its chosen orbital location — one million miles away from Earth — over a month-long journey, unfurling as it goes. It'll then deploy its sunshields as the observatory's telescopes and instruments enter shade and cool down. 

All in all, Webb will require approximately six months before its intended scientific operations begin, including revealing the dawn of the cosmos.