Webb Telescope Launches Successfully


After decades of planning, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) launched on time at 7:20 a.m. from the Arianespace Guiana Space Centre in French Guiana on Christmas morning. According to NASA’s live stream, the Ariane 5 booster flew a perfect trajectory with an 8:45 minute burn, followed by a planned 25-minute second-stage burn. You can view the recorded live NASA feed here.

The Webb telescope is the most ambitious telescope in the history of astronomy. Its optical and other sensors will be able to observe astronomical phenomena dating the origins of the universe. The 14,300-pound instrument has a 21-foot mirror and when fully deployed with its fabric sunshield is about the size of a tennis court, according to NASA specs. It was launched on an Ariane 5 booster because that system had the largest available payload fairing to accommodate the stowed telescope. Also, the European Space Agency is a partner in the Webb program.  

The booster launched the Webb telescope on a direct ascent to a point in space called the Lagrange 2, where the earth’s and the sun’s gravity exert about equal influence. The JWST will actually orbit this point at a diameter of about a half million miles, as explained by astronomer Jonathan McDowell in this video interview. The telescope will require about six months to reach station and become operational. During that time, it will complete a complex unstowing process which will begin in a few days. This video explains how it works.

Other AVwebflash Articles


  1. Got up and watched it live early this morning. Really glad that the launch went well and the telescope is finally on its way into orbit. One other reason for launching from French Guiana is that its location on the equator gives a little extra push into orbit than using the Kennedy Space Center would have. Actually, the launch was the easy part. The telescope now has to go through its incredibly complex “unfolding” process that has over 300 critical steps, each of which has to work. The science and technology behind the machine are truly amazing and I look forward to seeing the photos as it goes to work in six months. As I understand it, the telescope will initially be used for observations of objects closer to home to aid in calibration and the really deep space work will start several months later.

      • I hadn’t ever seen an Arianne rocket launch, so was interested to see how it went. Unfortunately, they launched into an overcast, so you couldn’t see much. Considering how many cameras are mounted on SpaceX’s rockets to show what’s happening, this one was pretty sparse. As of this morning, the telescope is 1/3 of the way to its final orbit, but the remainder of the trip will take about 21 more days. The real test starts on day 7 when the sun shield begins to deploy, which takes about two days. The mast and mirror deployment start on day 10 and takes 3 days. So, by day 14, we should know if everything went as planned. (Fingers crossed) From then on, the time-consuming part will be cooling everything down to operational temperature, which will take a couple months.

    • That’s a silly comment.

      We can do more than one project at a time, and what you call problems are the human condition.

      The Hubble provided worthwhile results, and hopefully so will Webb. That’s in contrast to the Space Shuttle and ISS, which were money pits with almost zero scientific benefit – NASA’s own PR materials talk about their “cultural benefits” rather than much tangible.

        • All elements on earth heavier than hydrogen came from the interiors of stars, so there is more than theoretical value in studying astronomy, especially with the right instruments.

          But we should probably have scientists vote on projects, rather than the House and Senate, to avoid moneypits like the Space Shuttle and ISS, which we’re still recovering from financially.

    • If we waited to do anything until we solve all man’s problems, we would still be living in caves. Besides, the ten billion is not all on the American taxpayer. Our other partners (Canada and the European Union) are also pitching in both money and parts for the telescope and launch.

  2. I’m glad to see the launch went well and I will be impressed if it “unfolds” as designed.
    What I’m really looking forward to is the images where instead of the “big bang” we just see ….more.