The Web Space Telescope was successfully launched from Earth on Saturday and almost everyone was relieved that it did not explode in the process. But there is still good news: the experiment is just as accurate as fueling the spacecraft to continue scientific operations for longer than expected.
The web captures images of some of the oldest lights in the universe, as well as close objects such as exoplanets. The telescope took off from the European Space Agency’s spaceport in French Guiana on December 25 and is currently 600,000 kilometers from Earth, moving away from us at an average speed of 800 meters per second. The web is 40% on its way to its final destination, a place called Lagrange 2 point. L2 is a point in space where gravitational forces allow spaceships to use smaller amounts of fuel. Constant with respect to the earth and the sun.
According to the ESA statement, the Web’s launch was more precisely aimed at L2, consuming less fuel than expected to correct the telescope’s title for the rest of the trip. Web has so far used its thruster twice to correct its course and once again use it to enter orbit at L2.
Once in space, the spacecraft uses occasional fuel to maintain its position and orientation in space, as well as to rotate and view specific areas of space. The minimum basis for Webb’s mission is five years, but a recent experiment’s analysis suggested that the Web could maintain L2 operations for more than a decade.
The Hubble Space Telescope, launched from Earth in 1990, is comparable and has provided 30 years of remarkable observation to mankind. Despite the problems with the telescope, especially recently, it is a testament to human engineering that it has continued for a long time. We hope the same can be said about the web.