The James Webb Telescope has been cleared for launch, only for weather to delay its ascent for at least a day.
Work on the ‘scope commenced in 1996, ahead of a planned 2007 launch. The instrument’s journey to the launchpad has been long and hard: in 2005 it was redesigned to control cost overruns, construction occupied another 11 years, then the craft was damaged during tests in 2018.
Then came COVID, which in 2020 slowed the process of integrating the ‘scope with the Ariane rocket that will (eventually) lift it into orbit. Further issues with that lifter, and the ‘scope, saw October 2021 slated as the launch date.
That date slipped, and in late November so did a “clamp band” that held the instrument to the Arianne. The launch was therefore rescheduled for December 22nd, before a cabling problem saw the launch pushed back to Christmas Eve, December 24th.
Now what NASA has described as “adverse weather conditions” means the launch has been pushed onto Christmas Day.
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Which is fitting, in a way, as the first Christmas was heralded by the appearance of an unusually bright star that three wise men followed to Bethlehem, in the hope of understanding the luminous object’s meaning.
The James Webb Telescope’s mission is to peer at stars and it is equipped with humanity’s finest-ever instruments for that job, making it a welcome addition to, and upgrade of, our species’ ability to understand our place in the universe.
The Register has consulted a weather forecast for the site of the Guiana Space Centre from which the Webb will ascend. The outlook for Christmas doesn’t look markedly better than for Christmas Eve. So perhaps a seasonal miracle may yet be required to send the ‘scope into the heavens on Christmas. ®