Video Shows Webb Telescope Drop Away From Carrier Rocket, Ready for Million Miles Trip


As you’re reading this, somewhere in the vastness of space, another human-made piece of hardware is making its way to its target. That target would be the second Lagrange point, which is located about one million miles (1.6 million km) from our planet and should become the forever parking space for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). Launched on Christmas Day from French Guiana, on top of a European rocket called Ariane 5, the JWST will take about six months to reach its destination and start snapping photos of the distant Universe. The first 29 days will be the critical ones, as the piece of hardware will have to unfurl to its true dimensions. While on its way to orbit, the telescope was neatly wrapped inside the carrier rocket, and a video released this week by the European Space Agency reveals just how the separation between the two occurred in orbit above our world. We get to see Webb detach from the rocket, then move away from it with no direct power, then turn on its side and ultimately explode in a supernova of brightness as the Sun’s rays hit all those reflective surfaces. Now that it’s free from Earth’s pull and no longer attached to anything, Webb is clear to let loose the full might of its gear in a series of operations that are both impressive in nature and dangerous to perform – NASA calls the upcoming maneuvers “the most difficult and complex deployment sequence ever attempted in space.” The space agency plans to provide coverage of all these ops on its social media channels. That means we’ll get info, as they happen, on the deployment of the thing’s sun shield, “the most challenging element of the Webb,” on January 2, the deployment of the secondary mirror support structure (January 4), and the unfolding of the primary mirror wings (January 7). So, if you’re into what the “world’s largest and most powerful space science telescope,” is up to, stay tuned next week to learn how all of the above goes.