ESA welcomes Webb in French Guiana for launch on Ariane 5

The James Webb Space Telescope has arrived safely at Pariacabo harbour in French Guiana. ESA in close collaboration with NASA will now prepare this once in a generation mission for its launch on Ariane 5 from Europe’s Spaceport this December.

Few space science missions have been as eagerly anticipated as the James Webb Space Telescope (Webb). As the next great space science observatory following Hubble, Webb is designed to resolve unanswered questions about the Universe and see farther into our origins: from the formation of stars and planets to the birth of the first galaxies in the early Universe.

Every launch requires meticulous planning and preparation. For Webb, this process began about 15 years ago. Its arrival at Pariacabo harbour is a major milestone in the Ariane 5 launch campaign.

Webb arrived from California on board the MN Colibri which sailed the Panama Canal to French Guiana. The shallow Kourou river was specially dredged to ensure a clear passage and the vessel followed high tide to safely reach port.

Though the telescope weighs only six tonnes, it is more than 10.5 m high and almost 4.5 m wide when folded. It was shipped in its folded position in a 30 m long container which, with auxiliary equipment, weighs more than 70 tonnes. This is such an exceptional mission that a heavy articulated vehicle was brought on board MN Colibri to carefully transport Webb to the Spaceport.

The Spaceport’s preparation facilities are ready for Webb’s arrival. As extra protection from contamination, the clean rooms are fitted with additional walls of air filters and a dedicated curtain will shroud Webb after it is mounted on the rocket.