The James Webb Space Telescope, which astronomers hope to herald a new era of discovery, will launch on Dec. 18, NASA said on Wednesday.
The $10 billion observatory (about Rs. 73,700 crores), which is a joint project by NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency, will take off on an Ariane 5 rocket from the spaceport in French Guiana.
It is currently stored at Northrop Grumman’s facilities in Redondo Beach, Calif., where it is awaiting shipment.
“Webb is an exemplary mission that signifies the epitome of perseverance,” said Webb’s NASA program director Gregory Robinson in a statement.
“We are extremely honored to orbit NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope with Ariane, a first for Arianespace and the European space team,” added Stephane Israel, CEO of Arianespace.
The researchers want to use the largest and most powerful space telescope ever built, to look back in time over 13.5 billion years and see the first stars and galaxies that formed, a few hundred million years after Big Bang.
A key feature is its ability to detect infrared, because by the time light from the first objects hits our telescopes, it has shifted to the red end of the electromagnetic spectrum as a result of the universe’s expansion.
The current premier space telescope, Hubble, has limited infrared capability.
Astronomers also hope the James Webb Space Telescope will boost the discovery of alien worlds.
The first planets to orbit other stars were detected in the 1990s and now there are more than 4,000 confirmed exoplanets.