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James Webb Space Telescope launch delayed till Christmas Day

US space agency Nasa said the launch had been postponed by a day due to adverse weather conditions at Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana

In this Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021 photo provided by the European Space Agency, the NASA James Webb Space Telescope is mounted on top of the Ariane 5 rocket that will launch it from Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana. (AP)

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Dangerously high wind will keep US space agency Nasa’s newest space telescope, the James Webb Space Telescope, on the ground for at least an extra day, with the launch now targeted for Saturday — Christmas Day — at the earliest.

Nasa announced the latest delay on Tuesday night. Upper-level high wind could force a rocket off-course or even damage or destroy it. Another weather forecast will be issued on 23 December in order to confirm the date of 25 December. The Ariane 5 launch vehicle and Webb are in stable and safe conditions in the Final Assembly Building, the Nasa statement added.

Also read: Meet the photographer documenting the James Webb Space Telescope

A Reuters report adds: the 24-hour weather delay at the Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana follows a two-day postponement from an earlier 22 December targeted launch window caused by electronic communications difficulties between the launch vehicle and its payload, according to Nasa.

The James Webb Space Telescope will soar from French Guiana on South America’s northeastern coast, aboard a European Ariane rocket. Launch managers will meet again Wednesday to assess the weather.

The $10-billion infrared observatory is widely considered the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, which has been in orbit since 1990.

During a news conference Tuesday, Nasa officials said the rocket and telescope were in good shape, and that the only lingering, though tolerable problem was an intermittent communication relay between the two, an AP report explains. The issue earlier forced a two-day delay; a clamp that inadvertently jolted the telescope at the launch site had prompted a four-day slip.

These last-minute snags come after years of delays and cost overruns for Webb, the biggest and most powerful science observatory ever built for space. Nasa is partnering with the European and Canadian space agencies on the project.

The Webb, the most powerful and complex space observatory, will allow us to look deeper into our solar system than ever before. It will allow us to traverse space and time, in a way, because not only will it give us a clearer view of exoplanets in the solar system than we have ever had access to, it will also help us understand how the universe itself was formed.

As a recent Mint Lounge story explains, the Hubble telescope, now in operation for over 30 years, has been useful in spotting faraway galaxies and telling us more about the universe’s age and expansion. The JWST is expected to go much further. A big reason for this is the astounding technologies it will carry. This includes a big primary mirror, 6.5m across and made of 18 hexagonal segments. The focus of the mirror can be calibrated by shifting the various segments.

(With inputs from the Associated Press and Reuters)

Also read: The Webb space telescope could peer into hidden corners of the universe

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