'More nail biting to come' as James Webb Space Telescope hailed 'wonderful Xmas present'

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Nasa’s ‘James Webb Space Telescope’ launches into orbit

The James Webb Space Telescope, known as Webb, is the largest, most powerful telescope ever launched into space. The revolutionary $9 billion instrument launched succesfully on Saturday from South America’s northeastern coast, opening a highly anticipated new era of astronomical exploration.

Scientists at mission control cheered as the Ariane 5 rocket lifted off from its launch pad as it started its historic journey into space.

Webb cements Britain’s status as a world-leading science and technology superpower due to the key role the UK played in its development.

Professor of Astrophysics and Space Science, Martin Barstow, tweeted: “Woohoo! #JWST #NASAWebb #esa launch successful. Many more nail biting moments to go yet, but JWST is on its way”.

Sky at Night host, Chris Lintott, tweeted: “LIFTOFF!!!!!!”

Webb

The James Webb Space Telescope (Image: Getty)

Ariane

The telescope attached to a rocket awaits launch (Image: Getty)

NASA administrator, Bill Nelson, said: “This is a great day not only for America, Europe and our Canadian partners, but it’s a great day for planet Earth.

“Over three decades we’ve produced this telescope that is going to take us back in time, back to the very beginnings of the Universe. We are going to discover incredible things that we never imagined.”

UK science Minister George Freeman said: “Today is a monumental milestone for international and UK space science: the Webb Space Telescope will allow us to go further and deeper to explore and discover our planetary universe.

“The project draws heavily on the world-class expertise of top UK scientists and engineers who were able to deliver vital pieces of this complex and powerful telescope.

“Being at the heart of this international project showcases the innovative talent of the UK’s world-leading scientists and engineers, and emphasises our position as a global science powerhouse.”

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Engineers and technicians assemble the James Webb Space Telescope

Engineers and technicians assemble the James Webb Space Telescope (Image: Getty)

James Webb Space Telescope engineers and scientists work in a clean room at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

James Webb Space Telescope engineers and scientists work in a clean room at the Goddard Space centre (Image: Getty)

Professor Brian Cox, commenting before the launch, said: “Good luck @NASAWebb – certainly one of the most important scientific [launches] in history.

“It will be a wonderful Christmas present if all goes to plan, as I’m sure it will!

“But I know that even the most rational amongst us will have fingers secretly crossed :-)”.

Hailed by NASA as the premiere space-science observatory of the next decade, the powerful infrared telescope was packed inside the cargo bay of an Ariane 5 rocket poised for blastoff at 12.20pm from the European Space Agency’s (ESA) launch base in French Guiana.

The 14,000-pound piece of tech was released from the French-built rocket after a 30-minute ride into space.

The Webb telescope will then take a month to coast to its destination in solar orbit roughly a million miles from Earth – about four times farther away than the moon.

Webb’s special orbital path will keep it in constant alignment with Earth as the planet and telescope circle the sun in tandem.

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The UK space industry (Image: Express)

Its 30-year-old predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope, orbits Earth itself from 340 miles away, passing in and out of the planet’s shadow every hour and a half.

Named after the man who oversaw NASA through most of its formative decade of the 1960s, Webb is about 100 times more sensitive than Hubble and is expected to transform scientists’ understanding of the universe and our place in it.

It will mainly view the cosmos in the infrared spectrum, allowing it to peer through clouds of gas and dust where stars are being born, while Hubble has operated primarily at optical and ultraviolet wavelengths.

Webb is designed to answer questions including what the early universe looked like as well as how black holes, galaxies and planetary systems evolved.

The telescope is so big that it had to be folded origami-style to fit inside Ariane 5. It will unfold like a transformer in space.

 work on folding membranes of a full scale test article five-layer sun shield

Work on folding membranes of a full scale test article five-layer sun shield (Image: Getty)

Dr Caroline Harper, Head of Space Science at the UK Space Agency (UKSA), said Webb’s ground-breaking discoveries will be made possible thanks to an international consortium of scientists, led by the UK’s best and brightest.

She told Express.co.uk: “The science that is going to be done with this telescope is expected to be truly astonishing.

“I think the fact there have been so many delays, just tells you how ambitious and complex it is.

“As such it’s going to revolutionise, I think, the way we view the universe.”

Webb has been in the works ever since the launch of Hubble in April 1990. It was originally meant to be built and ready to fly as early as 2007.

However, the project suffered many delays, including a recent decision to push back the launch date.

Mounted on the telescope is the Mid-Infrared Instrument or MIRI, a camera and spectrograph designed to see light in the mid-infrared region of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Light at these extended wavelengths is invisible to the naked eye, but this will not be a problem for Webb as it was designed to observe the light from stars dated to about 13.5 billion years ago.

According to NASA, the MIRI instrument will allow Webb to snap the sort of images that will “continue the breathtaking astro-photography” that made Hubble a household name.

The sensitive instrument was designed and built by a European consortium of 10 nations, led by the UK and including researchers from the University of Edinburgh to RAL Space at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory at Harwell.

Dr Harper told express.co.uk: “It’s certainly the ambition in the new National Space Strategy to use space to contribute to our ambition to be a science and technology superpower, and these things can only make a positive contribution to that.

“The UK is a good place to come and do research. That is the message and it’s a good message to get across.”



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