The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is a NASA mission I have been waiting for some time to launch. Originally set to be launched in 2018, we are now 3 years overdue. Admittedly the James Webb Space Telescope might be the most complicated piece of equipment NASA has ever launched, and that’s saying something when you realize NASA just landed the Perseverance Rover on Mars. The JWST was rescheduled to launch sometime during March of 2021 but that has been pushed out due to what’s going on currently with the COVID epidemic. Right now the JWST has a launch date set for October of this year, 2021. We can only cross our fingers and hope that NASA feels confident to launch in October of this year. But with how important this mission is going to be, I don’t mind the delay as long as NASA keeps us up to date on information. But this article is not about why it’s taking so long for the JWST to get in space and starts its mission.
The JWST will be the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, once it does get into space. The 10 billion dollar project was built in the hopes of being able to look back in time to when the first galaxies formed, possibly further. The project started development in 1996 and initial estimates put the cost between 1 and 3.5 billion dollars with a 2007 launch date. As you can see, we are way beyond that now. NASA has never had issues shutting down a project because of time and cost overruns however this is a mission of such importance because of the science the JWST will perform that it’s been given some leeway. About 7 billion dollars worth of leeway. With 25 years invested in the project and the possible ground breaking science it will bring NASA and all it’s engineers are working hard to get the JWST launched this year
February marked a significant month for progress in getting the JWST ready for its October launch by successfully testing its final functional performance test at Northrup Grumman in Redondo Beach, California. For 17 days all inputs and outputs were tested, system redundancy testing and confirmation, basically everything electrical on the telescope was tested, and then tested again to make sure all connections were lighting up and all devices could communicate with each other through the same networks as when the JWST gets to space. With the official comprehensive testing out of the way certifying the telescope will survive the rigors of launch the JWST can now move forward for testing with the launch and on-orbit operations. With all the delays over the years it’s hard to say anything is getting done on time or schedule but if things continue to go well we may very well meet the launch date October 2021, finally.
The next milestone the JWST needs to meet is known as the ground segment test. This test will confirm the telescopes ability to complete the process from planning science observations to transporting that scientific data to the community archives so scientists the world over and the public can get access to the data for research purposes. Four different systems will be tested with the mock network connection to the Deep Space Network (DSN). With the Deep Space Network comprising telescopes in Goldstone California; Madrid, Spain; and Canberra, Australia as well as other networks in partner countries around the world there will always be one if not more locations keeping line of sight communications with the JWST to send commands and gather science at all times. Once these tests are complete the final testing of the sunshield fold and final mirror deployment will be performed and as long as all those past, NASA will meet their obligation of the October 2021 launch.
“The James Webb Space Telescope will be the world’s premier space science observatory when it launches in 2021. Webb will solve mysteries in our solar system, look beyond to distant worlds around other stars, and probe the mysterious structures and origins of our universe and our place in it. Webb is an international program led by NASA with its partners, ESA (European Space Agency) and the Canadian Space Agency.”-NASA