We have just experienced a historical moment that will radically change the way we look at the Universe. As planned, the Ariane 5 took off from the Kourou spaceport at 1:20 p.m. on December 25, 2021 and the James Webb, the $ 10 billion telescope, is already heading to its final destination far away from the earth. One of the most critical moments of the project has ended in a resounding success.
Start now a journey of 1,500 million kilometers and six months of duration until we can see the first images.
And now that? Next steps
Now we have to wait and keep crossing our fingers. The James Webb Space Telescope will take about a month to reach the so-called second Lagrange point (L2), from where it will offer us a fantastic perspective to analyze the confines of the Universe. From Earth, that second Lagrange point is approximately 1.5 million kilometers away and the James Webb will take advantage of the trip to unfold, reduce its operating temperature and begin to commission its systems.
That will allow the James Webb to have a “distraction-free” perspective of outer space with which to take images that were hitherto science fiction. All this has, however, a big problem: the distance at which the Hubble is allows to repair it in case of problems. With the James Webb that option is ruled out, and it is necessary that everything works perfectly from the first moment. There will be no second chance for a telescope that has cost 10 billion euros.
After the month of travel, there will be five months left in which the Earth team will be in charge of aligning the telescope’s optics and calibrating the scientific instruments. The telescope systems will be aligned and the first calibration images will be taken. It will be six months after launch, around the summer of 2022, when it starts working properly and the first images captured by the telescope are ready to be shared.