Wake up! Space telescope to be launched today at 7:20 Eastern time.

December 25, 2021 • 5:00 am

MERRY CHRISTMAS!  Here’s a present to the world from science—international science.

I know people are up in Europe, and if you’re an early riser in America, you’ll want to see this too (the Kiwis and Aussies will be asleep unless they’re night owls). The James Webb Space Telescope will be launched today, on Christmas Day, at 7:20 Eastern U.S. time, or 6:20 Chicago time. I’m already up at 4:30 to do my ablutions and have coffee before the big takeoff. The good news is that many Americans will be forced to be awake by early-rising kids who want to open their presents.

When this is posted it will be 6 a.m. Eastern U.S. time: 1 hour and 20 minutes to go! And the NASA feed below will have begun.

You know what’s happening: the space telescope, far more powerful than the Hubble, will provide oodles of scientific information, including detecting infrared light from billions of years ago. You can read about it at Wikipedia, or at the NASA site

Here’s the NASA live feed:

Fingers crossed!

A feed from the NASA site that does have commentary (click on screenshot to go to NASA t.v.):

And another live feed:

I believe all conditions are go (things are “nominal”, as they say), and only weather or one other thing could mess up the launch (xkcd cartoon courtesy of Matthew):

23 thoughts on “Wake up! Space telescope to be launched today at 7:20 Eastern time.

  1. Fingers crossed!

    And lots of ritual sacrificing of turkeys, as an offering to the gods.

    … will deploy in orbit around the sun, dipping into and out of the Sun’s corona.

    You likely wrote that before sipping the coffee, 🙂 since the Sun’s corona thing is another mission, the Parker Solar Probe. JWST will stay Earth-distance from the Sun, and indeed will try to keep as cool as possible, and has a large, multi-layer sun shield for that purpose, since it will often be observing in infra-red light.

    1. Not that many racing sailors on this site, but to us, “nominal” commonly does mean “normal” or “average” in describing a compass heading, as opposed to headed or lifted. I know, pretty arcane, but apparently also common to rocket scientists!

      1. Tim Dodd, the Everyday Astronaut, accidentally said “norminal” on one of his webcasts and now uses it for fun, but I’m sure he wasn’t the first to make this mistake. Probably won’t catch on though as we would then have three words for essentially the same thing.

      2. It’s “nominal” US space terminology. I dunno why ESA it though, but it would be expected of a shared mission I suppose.

      3. There are subtle differences between the meanings of “normal” and “nominal”. Nominal in this context implies that the actual measurement lies between the minimum and maximum limits established by the engineering team. Normal could mean anything the speaker wants it to mean. As happens often in science, they use a different term precisely so they can give it a more specific meaning different from the muddy definition of the everyday term it resembles.

    1. The clapping and cheering occurred when the telescope separated from the remaining bit of the vehicle. It was a fantastic launch.

      Now the NASA guy is telling the story of Jesus’s birth and quoting from the Bible while touting the wonders of God!!!!!. Did they have to ruin the announcing with this? Lots of viewers are NOT Christians or even believers.

    2. Yeah, with SpaceX it’s the Whoop-And-Holler (Whoo-Hoo!) early 21st Century mass pop Amuricun culture.

      I assume that the “Steely-Eyed Missleman”/Gene Kranz flight controller culture still persists at NASA.

  2. Amazing – glad to see the launch went smoothly. Of course, now we just need to wait another month for it to reach its target location and then five months of testing before we start getting data back. But well worth waiting for!

  3. I remember the first Ariane 5 launch, back in 1996, which was meant to carry a group of 4 satellites into orbit to study the Earth’s magnetosphere. A now-notorious software bug caused the rocket to veer off course less than a minute into the flight, and the self-destruct system had to be triggered, destroying the satellites as well as the rocket. Some of my colleagues at the time had planned the next ten years of their research careers around the data that the satellites were due to send back, so it was a very dark day. Fortunately, Ariane 5 is a much more reliable launch vehicle these days.

  4. I happened to catch the webcast, and was greatly relieved to see it on its way! The latest news I could find is that the solar panels are deployed and the mission is fully powered.

    Good Yule all!

  5. For those interested in the rest of the “two and a bit weeks of terror”, the next step listed at https://jwst.nasa.gov/content/webbLaunch/deploymentExplorer.html is

    MCC1a Mid Course Correction Burn 1a
    Nominal Event Time: Launch + 12.5 hoursThis burn fine-tunes Webb’s trajectory after launch. The duration of the burn will depend on Ariane 5 launcher performance.The James Webb Space Telescope is launched on a direct path to an orbit around the second Sun-Earth Lagrange Point (L2), but it needs to make its own mid-course thrust correction maneuvers to get there. This is by design, because if Webb gets too much thrust from the Ariane rocket, it can’t turn around to thrust back toward Earth because that would directly expose its telescope optics and structure to the Sun, overheating them and aborting the science mission before it can even begin. Therefore, Webb gets an intentional slight under-burn from the Ariane and uses its own small thrusters and on-board propellant to make up the difference.There will be three mid-course correction (MCC) maneuvers: MCC-1a, MCC-1b, and MCC-2. The first burn, MCC-1a, is the most important and the only other time-critical operation aside from solar array deployment during Webb’s commissioning period.

    The first deployment step

    Solar Array
    Webb’s solar array is released and deployed.
    Nominal Event Time: Launch + 33 minutes

    has already been completed and the spacecraft is on solar power with battery buffering.
    Big future steps include :
    Sunshield Covers Release
    Nominal Event Time: Launch + 5 days

    Port Primary Mirror Wing
    This step begins the Primary Mirror deployment phase.
    Nominal Event Time: Launch + 12 days

    Starboard Primary Mirror Wing
    Begin deployment of the Starboard Primary Mirror Wing.
    Nominal Event Time: Launch + 13 days

    Individual Mirror Segment Movements
    Nominal Event Time: Launch + 15-24 days
    This operation is a multi-day multi-step activity to activate and move each of its 18 primary mirror segments (which are adjustable) out of their launch configuration.

    Mid Course Correction Burn (MCC2) – Begins L2 Insertion
    Nominal Event Time: Launch + 29 days
    Final positioning in the Lagrange #2 point of the Sun-Earth system.

    But there’s about 5 months of calibration and fine adjustment as the telescope cools down under it’s sunshade after getting to it’s final position.
    Obviously that “Mirror Segment Movements” activity could go fast, or slow, and if it goes fast the rest of the timeline will move forward. But the telescope cooling is governed by the laws of physics (apply for exemptions at your local altar – please notify the universe of any exemptions delivered (delivered, not “promised”) because that would be a first-in-class miracle), so don’t expect major results much before that 5 month commissioning duration is over. “Targets of Opportunity” which are “hot” (e.g., any new dimmings of Betelgeuse) might be visible while the telescope is still in cool-down.
    There is a lot more detail at the link given – these are just a few of the entries.

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