The James Webb Space Telescope — the Webb mission — an international partnership with the ESA (European Space Agency) and the Canadian Space Agency, launched aboard an Ariane 5 rocket on December 25, 2021, from Europe’s Spaceport by Arianespace from Kourou, French Guiana.
The observatory had been folded up, origami style, to fit inside an Arianespace Ariane 5 rocket for launch. Webb is now in the complex and intricate process of unfolding in space as it travels nearly 1 million miles to its destination, the second Lagrange point, or L2.
Webb’s deployment sequence is a human-controlled process that provides the team with the flexibility to pause, assess data and adjust, as needed. The timing and order of all milestones may therefore change. NASA will host live broadcast coverage to mark the following milestones, with specific times and dates updated as they approach:
- Sunshield tensioning: The full deployment of the sunshield, the most challenging element for Webb, will mark a critical milestone for the mission. This step is scheduled for completion about eight days after launch, no earlier than Sunday, January 2.
- Secondary mirror support structure deployment: The support structure that holds the secondary mirror in position to focus light collected by the primary mirror is set for deployment about 10 days after launch, no earlier than Tuesday, Jan. 4.
- Webb deployments complete: With the unfolding of the second of Webb’s primary mirror wings, the Webb team will have completed all observatory deployments. This is scheduled to take place about 13 days after launch, no earlier than Friday, January 7.
The Webb mission will explore every phase of cosmic history — from within the solar system to the most distant observable galaxies in the early universe… and everything in between. Webb will reveal new and unexpected discoveries and help humanity understand the origins of, and our place within, the universe.
“[This] launch is the mission of the decade,” said Stephane Israël, Chief Executive Officer of Arianespace, “one that demonstrates the reliability of Arianespace’s launch services in the eyes of the international space community. It’s a great honor for us to have been chosen for this launch, which will enable humanity to take a giant step forward in its knowledge of the Universe. The mission demanded 20 years of preparation hand in hand with NASA. It’s the third launch we have performed for the American space agency, clearly illustrating the advantage of large-scale international collaboration in space. I would like to thank ESA, NASA and CSA for entrusting us with their invaluable payload. To launch on Christmas morning 42 years after the takeoff of the first Ariane from this same Kourou site… What a great end of year present for the space community gathered today for this launch. I would also like to thank the teams of Arianespace, ArianeGroup, Cnes and ESA who worked without letup to ensure this success, all motivated by the same passion.” “This latest success is undoubtedly one of the most iconic space exploration launches performed by Ariane 5, following the Rosetta comet mission and Europe’s ATV resupply vessels for the International Space Station,” said André-Hubert Roussel, CEO of ArianeGroup. “Ariane 5 is known as the world’s most reliable launch vehicle, but, like everybody who contributed to the success of this mission, we were holding our breath when our launcher lifted off with this scientific jewel, one protected by a special fairing tailored for its sophisticated instruments. All previous launches also prepared this one, because we knew that the eyes of the world would be on us. There are just five more Ariane 5 launches scheduled before this legendary launcher bows out. Everybody at ArianeGroup is fully committed to making Ariane 6, scheduled for a first launch from Kourou in 2022, Europe’s next great achievement in space. I would like to thank ESA, NASA and CSA for placing their trust in us, and also all of our Ariane 5 partners in Europe, who are surely as proud as I am today.”