Why is James Webb Traveling to the Launch Site by Boat and not an Airplane?

The James Webb House Telescope has confronted a variety of questions throughout its arduous journey to completion. A few of the questions have been posed by involved legislators, aware of the constraints of the general public purse because the telescope’s value ballooned.

However the price range wrangling and the associated fee overruns are behind us now. The query that wants a solution is, why is it travelling to its launch web site by boat and never airplane?

At this time limit, the ground-breaking house telescope has value round 10 billion USD. That’s some huge cash. So no matter occurs subsequent for Webb, together with its journey to the launch web site in Kourou, French Guiana, shall be targeted on avoiding any harm or mishaps.

The JWST is because of launch from Kourou in December. That’s 14 years previous its preliminary launch date in 2007. As soon as in operation on the Solar-Earth L2 orbit, it’ll convey its energy to bear on a number of the most urgent points in astronomy and cosmology. The Webb will look again in time to the formation of a number of the earliest galaxies within the Universe. It’ll additionally look at the atmospheres of some probably liveable exoplanets. Examine its science aims here.

We’ve been ready a very long time for the JWST to change into operational, however we’ve got to attend a little bit longer. The following step in its journey is to the launch web site at Kourou. Slightly than flying the telescope to the launch web site, NASA is transporting it by ship from Lengthy Seashore, California, down by means of the Panama Canal, then alongside the coast of South America to French Guiana.


Because it seems, flying the JWST to Kourou wasn’t an possibility.

It’s not that the telescope is just too heavy for an plane. It’s extra to do with the lay of the land close to the Guiana Space Centre at Kourou. The Lockheed C5 Galaxy cargo plane can simply carry the telescope, it’s what occurs when it lands that’s the issue.

The closest airport to the Guiana House Centre is the Cayenne Airport. However Cayenne is almost 96 km (60 miles) down the coast from the launch web site. And in that 96 km, there are a number of bridges that may’t assist the telescope’s weight. So NASA is including another leg to the JWST’s epic journey: a sea voyage.

Whether or not by land, air, or sea, the JWST must be protected throughout its journey. It’s, in spite of everything, a finely-engineered, costly piece of kit. So NASA has a particular delivery container, only for house telescopes. It’s known as the House Telescope Transporter for Air, Street, and Sea (STTARS).

The House Telescope for Air, Street, and Sea (STTARS) is a custom-designed container that holds the James Webb’s Optical Telescope and Built-in Science (OTIS) instrument module. On this picture its being unloaded from a U.S. navy C-5 Charlie plane at Los Angeles Worldwide Airport (LAX) on Feb. 2, 2018. Picture: NASA/Chris Gunn

NASA designed STTARS to carry the Webb’s OTIS, or Optical Telescope and Built-in Science module. OTIS should be saved protected in any respect prices, and STTARS does simply that. The container itself weighs almost 75,000 kilograms (165,000 lbs) and controls the temperature and humidity to guard the JWST. It additionally helps isolate the telescope from the bodily stresses of journey.

In response to a report on Inverse, NASA isn’t releasing all the main points of the James Webb’s ocean voyage. There’s some concern round piracy and different potential interference, so NASA’s not revealing the timing and actual course the ship will take. NASA has enlisted the US transportation Command to assist assess the route for security and different issues, and it’s doable {that a} naval ship will present some escort.

When the ship carrying STTARS and the JWST makes landfall in French Guiana, the journey isn’t over. It takes meticulous planning to move the telescope to the launch facility, despite the fact that it’s solely about one hour of journey to succeed in the Guiana House Centre. Each street, intersection, and bridge should be absolutely analyzed earlier than the dear cargo could make the ultimate Earth-bound leg of its journey.

The official poster for the James Webb House Telescope. Picture Credit score: By NASA/JPL-Caltech – Public Area.

Potholes are stuffed, bushes are trimmed, and any and all hazards are examined. There are alternate contingency routes in case any issues or new hazards crop up. NASA planners will even designate protected havens alongside the route, in case the convoy must cease for repairs or another, unexpected purpose. There’ll be a police escort, too.

Whereas a typical tractor-trailer truck is about 15.2 meters (50 toes) lengthy, STTARS is double that. Meaning it wants a really massive turning radius. STTARS can be tall, so some site visitors lights alongside the route should be eliminated whereas the convoy passes by. All of those issues imply that STTARS can solely journey between midnight and 6 AM. If it could’t full the journey in that point, it’ll have to attend in one of many safe-havens till the following window.

When the journey is over, there’s nonetheless extra work to be finished. It’ll take 55 days simply to organize the JWST for launch. All the pieces should be examined to make sure there are not any issues after the lengthy journey. Then the telescope needs to be configured to mate with the rocket. It’ll take a few weeks to gasoline the spacecraft with the gasoline it wants to carry its place at Solar-Earth L2. Then it’ll be connected to the Ariane 5 rocket, the identical rocket household that launched different house telescopes like XMM-Newton, and the Herschel and Planck observatories.

Then, lastly, after so many delays, the telescope will launch on December 18th.

After launch, the telescope will journey about 1.5 million km (930,000 mi) the place it should enter into an unstable halo orbit at Sun-Earth L2. It’ll be a part of a rising neighborhood of spacecraft there, together with the ESA’s Gaia mission and NASA’s future Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope (previously WFIRST.)

As soon as there, it’ll take about 6 months to fee the telescope earlier than science operations can start. The JWST has a nominal mission size of 5 years, with an higher restrict of ten years, dictated by the quantity of propellant it carries.

There’s been a lot written in regards to the JWST’s lengthy journey from idea to completion that it may fill a server farm. It’ll be a reduction to lastly be speaking about its discoveries. If all goes nicely, and STTARS can get the Webb safely over the ocean to Kourou, we’ll be one step nearer to that day.

After launching on December 18th—fingers crossed— the spacecraft will take 30 days to succeed in Solar-Earth Lagrangian 2. Science operations ought to start 6 months after that. Researchers are lined up to make use of their allotted time, so we are able to count on some outcomes subsequent summer time, hopefully.

Extra: | Why is James Webb Touring to the Launch Website by Boat and never an Airplane?


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