See the mighty James Webb Space Telescope being unboxed in a cleanroom

The largest space telescope in the world, the James Webb Space Telescope, will soon be launching to study the wonders of the cosmos and to hunt for habitable exoplanets. But before it can be launched there’s a whole lot of preparation required, and a new video from the European Space Agency (ESA) shows the telescope being unboxed from its shipping container.

Last month, James Webb was packed up in California and shipped through the Panama Canal to French Guiana in South America, from where it will be launched next month. But it’s no simple matter to pack up a delicate telescope this large, so it had to be carefully folded away into a specially built case to keep it safe on its journey.

The James Webb Space Telescope is unboxed in the cleanroom at Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana.
The James Webb Space Telescope is unboxed in the cleanroom at Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana. ESA/CNES/Arianespace/NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

“After its arrival at Pariacabo harbor in French Guiana on 12 October 2021, the James Webb Space Telescope was transported to Europe’s Spaceport and unboxed in the cleanroom. It is now being prepared for its launch on an Ariane 5 rocket in December,” the European Space Agency (ESA) writes.

“Though the telescope weighs only six tonnes, it is more than 10.5 meters high and almost 4.5 meters wide when folded. It was shipped in its folded position in a 30 m long container which, with auxiliary equipment, weighed more than 70 tonnes.”

Having arrived safely at its destination on a heavy-load tractor, the telescope then had to be unpacked in the cleanroom at Europe’s Spaceport.

A cleanroom is a carefully controlled environment that keeps out dust and grime, to avoid contaminating any part of the telescope. To enter the cleanroom, engineers have to go through a series of lobbies to remove any loose particles from their shoes and hair and skin, and don sterile overclothes affectionately called “bunny suits.” All of this is to ensure that no speck of dust is left on the telescope which could impede its functioning once it is launched.

Within the cleanroom, the outer casing is removed and the telescope is carefully hoisted out and fully unpacked. It is placed onto a mechanism called a rollover fixture, which allows the telescope to be raised onto its end and stand vertical, in the same position it will be loaded into the rocket for its launch on December 18.

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