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We asked the NASA James Webb Space Telescope to tell us about its launch aboard the Ariane 5 rocket!
If you’re a space fan, you’ve probably heard of me. Nice to meet you, I’m the James Webb Space Telescope. In a few months, I’ll be going into space aboard the Ariane 5 rocket, to explore the universe.
People say I’m a very important telescope. But what is a telescope, you may wonder? I’m a machine with mirrors that can reflect and enlarge images of very faraway objects, such as stars and planets that are outside our solar system (we call them exoplanets). It’s really helpful to learn more about our universe! I’m not the first ever telescope though. You may have heard of my brother Hubble. I’m one hundred times more powerful than he is, and my mirror is seven times bigger!
I was designed – in other words, sketches of what I would look like were drawn – by engineers from different space agencies, an American one called NASA, a European one called ESA, and a Canadian one called ASC. ArianeGroup built the rocket which will launch me into space.
I had to take a long trip by boat on the MN Colibri to reach the Guiana Space Center (or GSC for short), the spaceport from where I will be launched. The site is located in French Guiana in South America. The place is a bit like an airport, but only for satellites and telescopes that travel aboard rockets. That’s where all the Ariane launchers take off from!
I can’t wait to meet my own Ariane rocket in a few weeks! Since I’m quite a big telescope (20 m), I’ll have to fold into 18 sections to fit into the rocket fairing. That’s the nose cone, the pointy part at the tip that opens up like a chocolate Easter egg. No worries: I’m as flexible as a yogi and will have no problem fitting inside. I’m also very heavy (6,500 kg); I weigh a bit more than an elephant. The rocket that takes me into space certainly needs to pack a punch. Ariane 5 will do nicely!
©Louise Perreaudin for ArianeGroup
The launch is coming up soon. It’s an incredible experience! Ariane 5 has to escape Earth’s gravity (the force that glues us to the ground) to send me into space. The rocket is equipped with an engine called Vulcain 2, and two large tubes called boosters, one on each side, to help boost the rocket upward. It’s like when you build momentum to jump up in the air. Except that Ariane 5 is as powerful as 20,000 sports cars!
When I arrive in space, the fairing at the top of the launcher will open and Ariane 5 will release me. I’ll unfurl my wings like a butterfly emerging from its pod, and be able to finally marvel at the universe around me. The unfolding part is really important: I have to follow a step-by-step process, a kind of choreographed dance, in order to stay intact and in perfect working order.
Once I’m completely unfolded, that’s when my job begins. I have a great many assignments, like observing stars and galaxies. Some of them are very old, as old as 13 billion years. That’s a lot of zeros: 13,000,000,000 years old! You would need a pretty big cake to fit that many candles…
I’m also designed to point my mirrors towards the atmosphere (or gases) surrounding exoplanets. I should be able to tell if these celestial objects are similar to our planet Earth. I might even be able to detect signs of alien life. That’s how smart I am! We won’t be able to confirm it right away since these planets are so distant. But it would still be an amazing discovery!
Are you looking forward to seeing me take off? It’s happening in a few days! Until then, stay tuned to other news on social media by using hashtag #WebbFliesAriane. You can also send ArianeGroup your drawings of me and Ariane 5! See you soon!