When Will James Webb Telescope Launch? Video Shows Ground Breaking $10 Billion Device Being Unboxed

A new unboxing video with a difference shows the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) being unloaded in a cleanroom at the European Space Agency's Spaceport in French Guiana.

The operation was conducted ahead of the JWST's launch from the South American launch complex, set for December 18, 2021, atop the Ariane 5 flight VA256. The telescope arrived at Pariacabo harbor in French Guiana on October 12, 2021.

The JWST was unfolded from an almost 100-foot long container.

The space telescope will revolutionize the investigation of distant objects in space, particularly the galaxies that existed when the Universe was in its infancy. This could potentially teach us more about how our Universe has evolved over its 13.8 billion-year lifetime than any previous mission or project.

Developing such a revolutionary space telescope doesn't come cheap. The estimated costs of creating the JWST are $10 billion.

The total mass of the space telescope is around 6,200 kilograms (13,668 pounds), including its observatory and the consumables like fuel that will be used during its five to 10-year mission, and an adaptor that enables its launch from the rocket that carries it.

Once in place, the JWST will be positioned in orbit at a stable point around 93,000 miles above Earth's surface called the Lagrange point two (L2). The Lagrange points are ideal places for satellites as the gravitational forces between Earth and the sun are balanced, and objects can stay here for a prolonged period with adjustments.

The JWST will improve on the observational power of the Hubble Space Telescope thanks to its gold-plated beryllium primary mirror, comprising 18 separate hexagonal segments that form a reflective surface with a diameter of 21 feet (6.5 meters).

The JWST has been in development since 1996, and the 25 year-long project hasn't been without controversy. Particularly recently, due to the policies of the man who it is named after during his time as head of NASA.

Who Was James Webb?

James Edwin Webb was born in October 1906 in the hamlet of Tally Ho in Granville County, North Carolina. During his career as an American government official, he served as Undersecretary of State from 1949 to 1952.

Webb's most famous position arguably, and the one that will see his name immortalized by a sophisticated space telescope, was as the second head of NASA, serving from 1961 to 1968 under Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.

During this period, Webb oversaw some of the most important developments in space exploration, including the Apollo Space Missions.

"Many believe that James E. Webb, who ran the fledgling space agency from February 1961 to October 1968, did more for science than perhaps any other government official and that it is only fitting that the Next Generation Space Telescope would be named after him," NASA says on its website.

"Webb's record of support for space science would support those views. Although President John Kennedy had committed the nation to land a man on the moon before the end of the decade, Webb believed that the space program was more than a political race."

During his tenure at NASA, Webb's vision was of a balanced program of space science research. This saw the space agency invest in the development of robotic spacecraft to explore the surface of the moon ahead of astronauts, and the launch of scientific probes to Mars and Venus, among a wealth of other projects that has led to some seeing that decade of space exploration as unparalleled since in terms of advancement.

Additionally, as early as 1965, Webb was championing the development of a major space telescope, then known as the Large Space Telescope, as a major future effort for NASA. But, Webb's tenure as NASA's head was not all glory and advancements.

Controversy Around James Webb

Earlier this year, over 1,200 people, mostly astronomers, academics and space enthusiasts petitioned to have NASA change the name of the JWST. The reason for this, they said, was because Webb went along with government discrimination against gay and lesbian employees in the 1950s and 1960s.

The petitioners say that Webb seems to have been complicit in the purge of homosexual people from government jobs during his time in public service. In particular, they highlighted the example of NASA employee Clifford Norton.

Norton was arrested and interrogated by police, he was also questioned by the space agency for "gay activity" and was subsequently fired by NASA in 1963. This was during Webb's tenure as head of the agency.

A cosmologist at the University of New Hampshire, Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, co-authored a Scientific American article that urged NASA to rename its revolutionary new telescope.

She wrote: "It is unfortunate, therefore, that NASA's current plan is to launch this incredible instrument into space carrying the name of a man whose legacy at best is complicated and at worst reflects complicity in homophobic discrimination in the federal government."

Despite the controversy, NASA has decided to leave the name "Jame Webb" attached to its space telescope in honor of the former administrator, who passed away in March 1992.

In a statement to NPR and in response to the petition, current NASA administrator Bill Nelson said: "We have found no evidence at this time that warrants changing the name of the James Webb Space Telescope."

James Webb Space Telescope
An image of the James Webb Space Telescope undergoing final preparations. The telescope was unboxed in a clean room at its launch site ahead of its journey to space which begins in December. Chris Gunn/NASA