NASA Delays James Webb Space Telescope Launch Due to Weather
Stop me if you’ve heard this one, but the James Webb Space Telescope launch has been delayed. This time it’s not a matter of engineering, assembly, or transport — it’s the weather. NASA had planned to launch the fabulously expensive spacecraft on December 24th, but now that has been pushed to Christmas Day at the earliest.
Of course, this is far from the first launch timeline for Webb. The telescope, which has been in some stage of planning or construction for nigh on 20 years, has encountered more delays than we can even count. As recently as earlier this year, NASA was hoping for an October launch, and then it slipped to November, and then to December 18th, 22nd, and 24th. Will it launch on Christmas? Maybe, and what a present that would be to astronomers. Or it could be coal in their stockings if something goes wrong.
The James Webb Space Telescope is the spiritual successor to Hubble, which is on its last legs as components fail left and right a decade after the final service mission. Webb has a larger mirror and instruments that will allow it to scan deeper into the infrared. NASA hopes this telescope will be able to peer back to the beginning of the universe and characterize nearby exoplanets. First, it has to get into orbit.
Webb is already at the ESA launch site in French Guiana. There, it was mated to an Ariane 5 rocket, which is your average expendable launch platform. After leaving the atmosphere, Webb will spend about a month moving to its final position at the Earth-Moon L2 Lagrange point. Along the way, there are hundreds of things that have to go right to make the telescope operational, but none of that will matter if the launch doesn’t go perfectly.
It’s not hard to understand why NASA would delay another day. If the weather isn’t optimal, there’s no reason to risk an irreplaceable piece of hardware like Webb. We have basically bolted the annual GDP of a small country to a metal tube and filled it with explosive liquid. We’re all hoping that the explosion only comes out of one end and successfully pushes the telescope into space.
Twenty years of work and ten billion dollars comes down to this moment, and NASA wants to make sure it chooses the right one. Currently, the launch window is listed as 7:20-7:52 AM ET on Christmas morning.