The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) was designed to primarily conduct infrared astronomy. It is the most powerful telescope launched into space. The improved infrared resolution will allow it to view older, more distant and fainter objects than the Hubble Space Telescope. this is expected to allow astronomers to observe the first stars and the formation of the first galaxies.
NASA led JWST’s development in collaboration with ESA and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). The NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) in Maryland managed telescope development, the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore operates JWST, and the prime contractor was Northrop Grumman. The telescope is named after James E. Webb, who was the administrator of NASA from 1961 to 1968 during the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs.
Development began in 1996 with a US $500 million budget for a launch initially planned for 2007. There were many delays and cost overruns, including a major redesign in 2005, a ripped sunshield during a practice deployment, a threat by the U.S. Congress to cancel the project, and the COVID-19 pandemic. Construction of the telescope was completed in late 2016, followed by years of extensive testing before launch in December of 2021. The total project cost is now expected to be about US $9.7 billion.
According to NASA, the James Webb Space Telescope is the world’s premier space science observatory. Webb will solve mysteries in our solar system, look beyond to distant worlds around other stars, and probe the mysterious structures and origins of our universe and our place in it. Webb is an international program led by NASA with its partners, ESA (European Space Agency) and CSA (Canadian Space Agency).
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Image credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI