French Guiana waits for historic Webb telescope launch

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The telescope will revolutionize the way we see the universe.

Like kids dreaming of presents under the tree, the scientists at the Jupiter control room at the Guiana Space Centre in Kourou are patiently waiting for December 25.

The James Webb Space Telescope–soon to become the most powerful ever to be launched into space–after technical and weather delays is set to take off on Christmas Day from the base in France’s South American department.

” We can’t wait for the launch,” Jean-Luc Mestre (engineer and vice-director operations at CNES) says.

This rocket’s payload is the Webb telescope. It has been used by thousands of people over a quarter century.

“Everything is ready,” Mestre adds. Mestre adds, “Now we just need the right weather. “

For days, heavy winds and rain have ravaged the thick tropical forest around the base. However, you wouldn’t know this from the vault-like control area, with its glassless walls and bank of glowing screens dominating the room.

This is where all information about the launch converges–and the forecast is now in its favor.

The Webb telescope will revolutionize the observation of the universe. Astronomers and astrophysicists alike have been eagerly awaiting its arrival for many decades.

Its successful launch will mark the beginning of a month-long journey after which it must complete a series of delicate events before it can beam images back from the farthest reaches of time and space.

But while Webb has been 25 years and billions of dollars in the making, there is nothing to indicate any stress over this particular launch.

” “Obviously this project is of particular importance,” said Bruno Erin, Arianespace mission director.

He says that while the stakes are high for his team, their experience and training make them less nervous.

On Saturday, an audience of scientists and the heads of NASA and the Canadian and European space agencies will gather to observe the control room from behind huge bay windows as it becomes a hive of activity.

The payload of this rocket, the Webb telescope is a piece technology that has been used by thousands for more than a quarter century.

‘Sober’ Christmas Eve

At 9: 20 am local time on Saturday, the team’s launch window of exactly 32 minutes will begin.

Three hours prior to that, a weather balloon is sent up to analyze the layers of the atmosphere and make sure the conditions are correct.

Mestre will be with his colleagues at mission control from midnight. They will be celebrating “sober Christmas Eve”

Since Kourou received the Webb telescope from the USA, where it was constructed, two technical issues have caused delays. The activation of an instrument meant to engage only after launch and the failure of a communications system were the first.

The weather caused a third delay.

Vincent Bertrand-Noel, flight safety engineer at CNES, says bad weather poses the biggest risk for people on the ground should the 780-tonne rocket go off course and need to be destroyed.

His unit, completely separate from the control room, has the authority to “intervene if the rocket veers outside its flight path”.

In 2019 such an incident took place when a Vega satellite launcher broke in two.

If something like that happens, it’s Bertrand-Noel’s job to explode the rocket, transforming it into a rain of debris–an occurrence that is rare but nonetheless poses a danger to Kourou and its 25,000 inhabitants.

“Plus “When there’s an launch, everyone goes to the shore to watch,” Bertrand-Noel says.

(c) 2021 AFP

French Guiana awaits historic Webb telescope launch (2021, December 23)
retrieved 25 December 2021

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