Front Page: ESA Welcomes Webb In French Guiana For Launch On Ariane 5

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12/10/2021 1333 views 15 likes

The James Webb Space Telescope has arrived safely at Pariacabo harbour in French Guiana. ESA in close collaboration with NASA will now prepare this once in a generation mission for its launch on Ariane 5 from Europe’s Spaceport this December.

The James Webb Space Telescope has arrived safely at Pariacabo harbour in French Guiana

Few space science missions have been as eagerly anticipated as the James Webb Space Telescope (Webb). Webb, the next great space science observatory after Hubble is intended to answer unanswered questions and provide a deeper understanding of our origins. It will be able to see from the formation and birth of stars and galaxies through to Hubble’s early Universe.

Every launch requires meticulous planning and preparation. For Webb, this process began about 15 years ago. Its arrival in Pariacabo harbour marks a significant milestone in the Ariane 5 campaign.

Webb arrived from California on board the MN Colibri which sailed the Panama Canal to French Guiana. To ensure safe passage, the Kourou river was specially dredged. The vessel then followed the high tide to reach port.

Webb folded

Though the telescope weighs only six tonnes, it is more than 10.5 m high and almost 4.5 m wide when folded. It was shipped in its folded position in a 30 m long container which, with auxiliary equipment, weighs more than 70 tonnes. It was such an extraordinary mission, that MN Colibri brought a heavy articulated vehicle onboard to transport Webb safely to the Spaceport.

The Spaceport’s preparations facilities are available for Webb’s arrival. The clean rooms have additional air filters to protect Webb from contamination. A dedicated curtain will cover Webb once it’s mounted on the rocket.

Webb launch timeline

This launch campaign involves more than 100 specialists. Each team will prepare the telescope and launch vehicle separately until they are one team.

When Webb arrives at the Spaceport, it will be unpacked inside a dedicated spacecraft preparation facility where it will be examined to ensure that it is undamaged from its voyage and in good working order.

In parallel to Webb preparations, Ariane 5 rocket parts from Europe will come together in the launch vehicle integration building.

Europe’s powerful and highly reliable heavy-lift workhorse has an excellent track record spanning more than 100 launches and three decades. Ariane 5’s ample fairing, 5.4 m diameter and 17 m high, provides enough space for Webb’s folded spacecraft components, sunshield and mirrors.

Ariane 5 is well suited for science satellites with proven capability to send missions to the second Lagrange Point (L2). Ariane 5 will launch Webb on a path to L2, which will last for four weeks. It will eventually reach L2 which is four times further than the Moon from Earth.

Webb and Ariane 5: a fit made perfect

A few customised features make Ariane 5 a perfect fit for Webb. The fairing base will be opened during flight to allow for venting ports to be adapted. Webb will be protected by the fairing, the rocket’s nose cone, during liftoff and throughout its journey through the Earth’s atmosphere. The fairing’s venting ports will allow for extremely smooth depressurisation from ground pressure to vacuum during flight.

Then, to avoid overheating of any elements of Webb, Ariane 5 will perform a specially developed rolling manoeuvre to ensure that all parts of the satellite will be equally exposed to the sun. An extra battery will power the upper stage, allowing it to safely separate from Webb.

Vega, Ariane 5 and Ariane 6 launch zones at Europe’s Spaceport

Arianespace operates a family of rockets at Europe’s Spaceport: Ariane 5, Vega and Soyuz. This launch site is surrounded by jungle and covers 690 km2. This launch site is ideal for rocket launches for many reasons.

First, at only 5 degrees north of the equator, the rockets launched here can benefit from the ‘slingshot effect’ due to the speed of Earth’s rotation, increasing their performance as they already travel at over 300 m/s when they lift off. Open ocean to the east and north offer a wide range of launch paths, far from densely populated areas.

Finally, this region has a very low risk of cyclones or earthquakes which is important when such delicate operations are taking place.

“Webb is an excellent example of international teamwork and cooperation. Webb and his partners are welcome to Europe’s Spaceport, French Guiana. We look forward to continuing this adventure towards an exciting liftoff on Ariane 5 as well as sharing in the many Webb science discoveries to come!” said Daniel Neuenschwander (ESA Director of Space Transportation).

Working with partners, ESA was responsible for the development and qualification of Ariane 5 adaptations for the Webb mission and for the procurement of the launch service.

Webb is an international partnership between NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).

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