The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) represents NASA’s technological prowess and innovation as humanity’s premier space observatory of the 2020s. NASA expects to launch it into orbit sometime in 2021, though the ambitious project has already had some schedule changes and minor setbacks

Formerly known as the Next Generation Space Telescope (NGST), NASA renamed the craft in 2002 to honor former NASA administrator James Webb, the man the myth the legend appointed by John F. Kennedy who lead the space agency from 1961 to 1968 presiding over the Apollo Program. 

The JWST embodies an international collaboration between the world’s greatest space agencies: NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center manages the development of the space observatory with the aid of Northrop Grumman, while the Space Telescope Science Institute plans to manage and operate JWST following a successful launch.

An infrared telescope equipped with a 6.5-meter primary mirror, NASA intends Webb to effectively replace the Hubble Telescope, permitting thousands of astronomers worldwide an extraordinary window into the Cosmos, utilizing an array of tools capable of observing some of our Universe’s most intriguing and elusive phenomenon.

 The JWST aims to study every era in the history of our Universe, examining the initial glows following the Big Bang to the formation of star systems, especially those supporting planets that could harbor life. The JWST will augment Hubble’s discoveries, with the ability to cover longer wavelengths with greatly enhanced sensitivity.

The Optical Telescope Element, JWST’s iconic 18 hexagonal primary mirror, will provide a deeper look into the Cosmos, allowing for the direct imaging of exoplanets and objects dating back to the ancient beginnings of our Universe, a feat currently unavailable with current technology.

Hubble Space Telescope’s 2.4 meter mirror in comparasion to the 6.5 meter geometric monster NASA is building to launch into space to look at stuff. Credit: NASA/JWST

Other mission objectives include searching for the first galaxies and objects formed closely following the Big Bang, identifying how galaxies evolve from early formation to how they appear in the present, examining the evolution of stars and planetary systems, and to measure the chemical properties of exoplanets and planetary systems while investigating any signs of life.

Scientists estimate the mission duration lasting 5-10 years, but past technology (spritzer) could suggest this as a tentative figure. 

JWST’s range trumps any current observatory in orbit including Hubble and the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, offering an unprecedented view into the early universe. Credit: NASA and Ann Feild [STScI]

James Webb Space Telescope, equipped with some of the most advanced technology ever developed by the greatest minds of our civilization. Credit: NASA/JWST