The Hubble Space Telescope has been doing a good job of showing us things in the universe we couldn’t possibly see before. Now it is aging and it is about time for it to be replaced. What will replace it? The James Webb Space Telescope will be Hubble’s replacement. It won’t simply be a replacement, it will be an improvement.
Planning for the James Webb Space Telescope began in 1996. At first, it was simply called the Next Generation Space Telescope. It was renamed James Webb in 2002 after James E. Webb. Webb was the second administrator of NASA and oversaw the Apollo space program. He also was instrumental in making NASA a center of scientific research. It is fitting that the newest space telescope be named for him.
The James Webb Space Telescope isn’t just a project in the United States. With collaboration from the Canadian Space Agency and the European Space Agency, it has become an international project. Just as was the case with the Hubble Space Telescope, this new telescope has had delays and cost overruns. Originally, the telescope was expected to cost $1.6 billion and be launched in 2011. By 2011, the launch was delayed because the telescope would not be ready in time. At this point, $3 billion had already been spent and the House of Representatives ended the funding. Fortunately, funding was restored and capped at $8 billion.
In December of 2014, construction was on the revised schedule and remained within budget. There was a risk of more delays though. At this time, the telescope is scheduled to be launched in October of 2018. It will hitch a ride on an Ariane 5 rocket into orbit at approximately 930,000 miles from Earth. It will be able to operate there using only one sunshield. The sunshield will block light and heat from both the sun and Earth to keep the telescope’s temperature below the -370 F required for observations in infrared.
What the Hubble couldn’t see, the James Webb will see. It will be able to send images back to Earth with greater resolution than the Hubble could. James Webb will be far more sensitive in the long-wavelength visible light. Compared to James Webb, Hubble is quite small. The mirror on the Hubble is only 7.9 feet. The James Webb mirror will be 21 feet and segmented. This will enable the new telescope to see far beyond anything that the Hubble telescope saw.
The images sent back to Earth from the Hubble telescope were amazing. We can’t even imagine the astounding images we will get to see from the James Webb Space Telescope. We can’t even imagine from how far out those images will come. Sorry Hubble, it’s time to move over and let the big boy take over.