NASA Announces James Webb Space Telescope Launch Date

The James Webb Space Telescope, which will look deeper into the universe than humans have ever done before, will launch on Christmas Eve, U.S. and European officials have confirmed.

The observatory, which is the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, will take on December 24 from the Kourou spaceport in French Guiana at 9.20 a.m. local time (7.20 a.m. ET).

If there is bad weather or technical issues, there are other launch days planned for 25 and 26 December.

NASA said that teams at the launch site had finished the final checks on the telescope inside the Ariane 5 rocket that will launch it to space.

Final checks are planned for Tuesday for the space project that cost $10 billion and which scientists hope can study the atmospheres of distant planets to learn about the prospect of life beyond earth.

Technicians raise the James Webb Space Telescope.
In this April 13, 2017 photo provided by NASA, technicians lift the mirror of the James Webb Space Telescope using a crane at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. NASA announced Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021. The telescope is scheduled to be launched into space next week. Laura Betz/NASA via AP

NASA describes the telescope as "the world's premier space science observatory," which will look to solve mysteries in our solar system as well as probing "the mysterious structures and origins of our universe and our place in it."

NASA, which leads the Webb project, and its partner the European Space Agency (Esa), released pictures showing the moment of Webb's encapsulation that will protect it as it climbs into space.

The launch had been delayed by a few days due to complications with communications cable carrying data from Webb to ground-support equipment.

"We're not taking any risks with Webb," Thomas Zurbuchen, Nasa's director of science told reporters on Thursday, "we're absolutely making sure that everything works."

The Webb telescope is three times bigger and about 100 times more powerful than its predecessor. Its 21-foot-wide primary mirror will capture the faint ancient light of the oldest stars and galaxies in the universe.

After a 26-minute ride on the Ariane 5 launch vehicle, the spacecraft will leave the rocket and its solar array will deploy automatically.

Webb will take one month to reach its intended orbital location nearly one million miles away from Earth, slowly unfolding as it goes. Sunshield deployments, starting after the launch will be controlled from the ground

"I'll be elated of course when this is successful, but it will also be a time of deep personal introspection," said Mark Voyton, Webb observatory integration and test manager at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

"Twenty years of my life will all come down to that moment."

The James Webb Space Telescope
The James Webb Space Telescope stands in the S5 Payload Preparation Facility (EPCU-S5) at The Guiana Space Centre, Kourou, French Guiana on November 5, 2021. It will be launched on December 24, 2021. JODY AMIET/Getty