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Most powerful space telescope ever built gets a new launch date

The most powerful space telescope ever built is set to launch on December 18, NASA has announced.

But with so many delays affecting the James Webb Space Telescope’s deployment over the years, many observers may not believe the new schedule until they actually see the rocket blasting into space with the telescope tucked away in the fairing.

The James Webb Space Telescope will launch aboard an Arianespace Ariane 5 rocket from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana on the northeastern coast of South America. Once in orbit almost a million miles from Earth, the telescope will serve as the premier deep space observatory for the next decade.

NASA said the telescope’s advanced technology will enable scientists to explore “every phase of cosmic history — from within our solar system to the most distant observable galaxies in the early universe, and everything in between,” adding that “Webb will reveal new and unexpected discoveries, and help humankind understand the origins of the universe and our place in it.” And if the work of the existing Hubble Space Telescope is anything to go by, we can expect to enjoy plenty of jaw-dropping imagery from the new technology.

The result of an international collaboration between NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Canadian Space Agency, the highly advanced James Webb Space Telescope features a striking 6.5-meter-diameter golden mirror made up of 18 hexagonal segments that will allow it to explore deep space in greater detail than ever before.

The mirror also includes an enormous sunshield about the size of a tennis court. As both the mirror and the sunshield are too large in their open form to be placed inside the rocket’s fairing, both components will be carefully folded for the flight and then automatically unfold soon after deployment.

Launch day has certainly been a long time coming. Development on the project started way back in 1996 with a launch date originally targeted for 2007. But various issues along the way, including the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, saw a number of mission dates called off.

Barring any last-minute calamities, it really does look as if the most powerful space telescope ever built will soon be heading skyward.

For a more in-depth look at the James Webb Space Telescope and its mission goals, check out Digital Trends’ recently published piece explaining everything you need to know.

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Trevor Mogg
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