The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST)

Mission Objectives

The James Webb Space Telescope (sometimes called JWST or Webb) will be a large infrared telescope with a 6.5-meter primary mirror. The telescope will be launched on an Ariane 5 rocket from French Guiana in October of 2018.

JWST will be the premier observatory of the next decade, serving thousands of astronomers worldwide. It will study every phase in the history of our Universe, ranging from the first luminous glows after the Big Bang, to the formation of solar systems capable of supporting life on planets like Earth, to the evolution of our own Solar System.

JWST was formerly known as the "Next Generation Space Telescope" (NGST); it was renamed in Sept. 2002 after a former NASA administrator, James Webb.

JWST is an international collaboration between NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). The NASA Goddard Space Flight Center is managing the development effort. The main industrial partner is Northrop Grumman; the Space Telescope Science Institute will operate JWST after launch.

Facts about the JWST

  • Proposed Launch Date: JWST will be launched in October 2018
  • Launch Vehicle: Ariane 5 ECA
  • Mission Duration 5 - 10 years
  • Total payload mass: Approx 6200 kg, including observatory, on-orbit consumables and launch vehicle adaptor.
  • Diameter of primary Mirror: ~6.5 m (21.3 ft)
  • Clear aperture of primary Mirror: 25 m2
  • Primary mirror material: beryllium coated with gold
  • Mass of primary mirror: 705 kg
  • Mass of a single primary mirror segment: 20.1 kg for a single beryllium mirror, 39.48 kg for one entire primary mirror segment assembly (PMSA).

Who is James Webb?

The man whose name NASA has chosen to bestow upon the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope is most commonly linked to the Apollo moon program, not to science.

Yet, many believe that James E. Webb, who ran the fledgling space agency from February 1961 to October 1968, did more for science than perhaps any other government official and that it is only fitting that the Next Generation Space Telescope would be named after him.

Webb's record of support for space science would support those views. Although President John Kennedy had committed the nation to landing a man on the moon before the end of the decade, Webb believed that the space program was more than a political race. He believed that NASA had to strike a balance between human space flight and science because such a combination would serve as a catalyst for strengthening the nation's universities and aerospace industry.

As part of an oral history project sponsored by the LBJ Library in Austin, Texas, Webb recalled his conversations with Kennedy and Vice President Lyndon Johnson. He was quoted as saying in one transcript, "And so far as I'm concerned, I'm not going to run a program that's just a one-shot program. If you want me to be the administrator, it's going to be a balanced program that does the job for the country..."