Time to fly?

Watch: Explosive animation shows how the Webb telescope will blast into space

A hint at what’s to come.


After at least a half dozen delays, it’s looking more likely that the James Webb Space Telescope will actually launch in 2021.

NurPhoto/NurPhoto/Getty Images

On December 14, the ESA announced that its crews completed one of the final steps before launch: placing the folded-up telescope atop the Ariane 5 rocket that will take it to space.

Here’s the moment crews attached the telescope to its vehicle.

ESA-Manuel Pedoussaut

The next step will be to enclose Webb inside Ariane’s fairing — the upper panels on the rocket that will reduce drag and protect the telescope as it pushes through Earth’s atmosphere.

Xavier ROSSI/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images

Ariane 5 rockets have been used to carry other important missions to space, such as the ESA’s BepiColumbo, a flyby mission to Mercury.


Now, mere days remain before Webb’s rocket is shuffled onto the launchpad for its projected liftoff on December 24.

Editor’s note: This slide has been updated to reflect a delay in Webb’s launch from December 22 to December 24.


Once the rocket takes off from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana, it will carry the telescope about 930,000 miles away from Earth to its observation point.


Here’s an animation that shows what the process will look like:

Once in space, the telescope will unfurl its giant mirrors and sun shade over the span of 30 days.

As a successor to Hubble, Webb’s primary mirror will be about 6.5 meters in diameter compared to Hubble’s 2.4 meters.


Sergei Savostyanov/TASS/Getty Images

We’ll just have to wait and see if the launch will finally happen before the end of the year.

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