James Webb Space Telescope launch – live: Largest telescope ever built blasted into space in historic launch

·13 min read

Nasa has launched the James Webb Space Telescope, which the US space agency hopes will unlock the secrets of the early universe.

The launch was scheduled for 12.20pm GMT (7.20am EST) on Christmas Day, with a live stream available on Nasa’s website shortly before lift-off.

All sorts of last-minute issues could have hampered the launch of the $10 billion observatory, which was previously pushed back from 24 December due to poor weather conditions at the launch site in French Guinea. However the launch went incredibly smoothly, with not only the lift-off but also the rocket separation going ahead without fault.

“What an incredible Christmas present”, said Garth Illingworth, an astronomer at the University of California.

Nasa administrator Bill Nelson had warned ahead of the launch that “over 300 things” could go wrong and scupper the launch, with officials saying during a news conference this week that there was an intermittent communication delay between the rocket and telescope.

Rob Navias, a NASA commentator, said on the agency’s live stream that the James Webb Telescope had had a “perfect ride to orbit”.

Once in space, the James Webb telescope will attempt to look back in time 13.7 billion years towards stars and galaxies formed during the early stages of the universe’s creation.

You can follow all the latest news and updates from the launch right here.

‘A Christmas gift to humanity'

21:16 , Bevan Hurley

Renowned theoretical physicist Brian Greene described the James Webb Telescope as the “most powerful tool to explore the cosmos” in a tweet welcoming its Christmas launch.

‘An astonishing engineering feat’: Star Trek actor hails launch of James Webb Telescope

20:27 , Bevan Hurley

George Takei, who played Hikaru Sulu on the long-running sci-fi series, congratulated everyone involved in the launch of the James Webb Telescope.

“Long may it reveal the universe’s secrets to us back here on Earth.”

‘Merry Christmas! We got you a new telescope'

19:46 , Bevan Hurley

Nasa delivered a very special Christmas Day present to the world with the launch of the James Webb Telescope.

A view of the James Webb Telescope launch from space

19:25 , Bevan Hurley

Oxford University researcher Simon Pound shared an image of the James Webb Telescope launch taken from a weather satelite.

The $10 billion telescope appears as a small bright dot as it hurtles past the satellite.

Naming of James Webb Telescope caused a major backlash

18:41 , Bevan Hurley

The launch of the James Webb Telescope went ahead without a hitch on Christmas Day.

However, the decision to name the telescope after a Nasa administrator who oversaw a purge of gay and lesbians from the space agency caused a major controversy in the months leading up to lift-off.

More than 1000 scientists, students and LGBTQ activists signed a petition calling for the telescope to be renamed.

Read more about the naming controversy here.

Nasa adviser quits and thousands protest at naming of telescope

One last glimpse of the James Webb Telescope before it heads into deep space

17:11 , Bevan Hurley

Nasa shared final images of the James Webb Telescope before it begins its two-week process to deploy antennas, mirrors and a sunshield and start its one million mile journey into deep space.

ICYMI: James Webb Telescope successfully launched

16:19 , Bevan Hurley

After a 24-hour postponement due to weather, the James Webb Space Telescope officially launched at 7.20am EST (12.20pm GMT) on Christmas Day.

The telescope will give scientists the ability to peer back further into the universe’s history than ever before.

The enormous, $10bn (£7.5bn) telescope will work in tandem with the Hubble space telescope, and eventually travel more than one million miles from Earth.

The Independent’s Adam Smith and Aisha Rimi have the full story.

James Webb Space Telescope successfully launched by Nasa

James Webb telescope will give us “a better understanding of our universe”, Nasa administrator says

15:31 , Aisha Rimi

Nasa administrator Bill Nelson called the James Webb telescope a time machine that will provide “a better understanding of our universe and our place in it: who we are, what we are, the search that’s eternal.”

“We are going to discover incredible things that we never imagined,” Nelson said following liftoff, speaking from Florida’s Kennedy Space Centre. But he cautioned: “There are still innumerable things that have to work and they have to work perfectly...we know that in great reward there is great risk.”

Science Minister calls the launch of the telescope “an incredible moment for the UK space sector"

14:40 , Aisha Rimi

Science Minister George Freeman said: “Today is a monumental milestone for international and UK space science: the Webb Space Telescope will allow us to go further and deeper to explore and discover our planetary universe.

“The project draws heavily on the world-class expertise of top UK scientists and engineers who were able to deliver vital pieces of this complex and powerful telescope.

“Being at the heart of this international project showcases the innovative talent of the UK’s world-leading scientists and engineers, and emphasises our position as a global science powerhouse.”

Applause at control centre as telescope starts flying solo

12:49 , Holly Bancroft

The James Webb telescope has separated from the rocket stage and has now deployed its solar array amidst applause at the control centre. This means that the solar panels are now providing electric power to the spacecraft and Webb is on its own.

ICYMI: James Webb Telescope successfully launched

12:44 , Holly Bancroft

In case you missed it, here is all you need to know about the successful launch of the James Webb Space Telescope and its next steps.

My colleague Adam Smith has the latest:

James Webb Space Telescope successfully launched by Nasa

Main stage now separated

12:35 , Holly Bancroft

The main engine’s of the James Webb Telescope’s rocket have cut off and the main stage has now separated.

The European Space Agency have published a mocked-up photo of what this stage currently looks like.

The James Webb Telescope’s main stage has been separated whilst in flight. (ESA)
The James Webb Telescope’s main stage has been separated whilst in flight. (ESA)

Fairing separation

12:29 , Holly Bancroft

The fairings - the outer shell protecting the telescope - have been jettisoned.

The 2 strap on boosters for the Ariane 5 rocket carrying the James Wedd Space Telescope have also separated as planned.

Lift off!

12:20 , Holly Bancroft

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has launched on a Ariane 5 rocket from the Guiana space centre in Kourou, French Guiana exactly on time at 12:20 GMT.

Rob Navias, NASA spokesperson, has described the launch as “from the edge of a tropical rain forest to the edge to time itself”.

“Everything is ok, everything is normal”, a mission official said on the live stream as the Ariane 5 rocket ditched its solid rocket boosters.

Less than a minute to go till launch!

12:19 , Holly Bancroft

Weather conditions ‘green' to go for launch

12:17 , Holly Bancroft

The final weather briefing before launch shows all parameters in French Guiana are “green” for liftoff of the Ariane 5 rocket with the James Webb Space Telescope.

It’s a cloudy day in Kourou for the launch, but NASA spokesperson Rob Navias said that all systems are still green.

“Don’t let those clouds fool you, we are go for launch”, he said.

The Webb telescope transitions to onboard power

12:12 , Holly Bancroft

The James Webb Telescope has now transitioned to onboard power. Less than 10 minutes to go till launch.

Watch live as the James Webb Telescope launches

12:04 , Holly Bancroft

The James Wedd Space Telescope has now successfully launched from the Kourou spaceport in French Guiana. Watch live as it the telescope separates from its rocket and watch its trajectory into space.

25 minutes to go!

12:00 , Holly Bancroft

Launch of the James Webb Space Telescope is scheduled in less than 25 minutes.

The Ariane 5 rocket in French Guiana is now fully loaded with around 189 metric tons of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propellants.

Weather conditions are looking good for lift off.

NASA experts are in conversation on their live stream ahead of the launch.

Webb Telescope’s rocket is now fully fueled

11:27 , Holly Bancroft

NASA have announced that the James Webb Telescope’s rocket is not all fueled up.

Launch is scheduled for no earlier than 12:20 pm GMT.

Fueling for both the main and upper stages of the Ariane 5 rocket is now complete. The cryogenic arms attached to the Ariane 5 are now supplying top-up fuel until liftoff.

Here’s how to track the James Webb Telescope once it’s launched

10:45 , Holly Bancroft

NASA have created a page that allows anyone to track the James Webb Telescope during its launch and while it is in space.

The website shows the Telescope’s distance from Earth, its cruising speed and its distance from the L2 orbit, among other things.

Where is Webb? NASA’s website to track the Telescope in space (NASA)
Where is Webb? NASA’s website to track the Telescope in space (NASA)

Have a look for yourself here.

The James Webb Space Telescope in pictures

10:14 , Holly Bancroft

The Webb Telescope is the biggest observatory built for launch into space. It is so big that it has had to be folded to fit in the nosecone of its launch rocket.

The James Webb Space Telescope is packed up for shipment to its launch site in Kourou, French Guiana (via REUTERS)
The James Webb Space Telescope is packed up for shipment to its launch site in Kourou, French Guiana (via REUTERS)
Engineers unpack, clean and prepare the James Webb Space Telescope ahead of its scheduled launch into orbit. (via REUTERS)
Engineers unpack, clean and prepare the James Webb Space Telescope ahead of its scheduled launch into orbit. (via REUTERS)

The project is fraught with risk and has been plagued with years of delays and billions of dollars of overspends. The launch will be challenging but it’s what comes next that is making astronomers more worried.

Following the launch, the telescope will have to be unfolded in space.

“Once you get it launched, there’s still 300 things that have to work perfectly for it to be a success,” NASA administrator Bill Nelson told Space.com.

This is what the Telescope should look like if the launch goes smoothly today. (AP)
This is what the Telescope should look like if the launch goes smoothly today. (AP)
The James Webb Telescope mirror will be key to the project’s objective of capturing images of stars from the early stages of the universe. (REUTERS)
The James Webb Telescope mirror will be key to the project’s objective of capturing images of stars from the early stages of the universe. (REUTERS)

James Webb Space Telescope’s rocket begins fueling up for launch

09:32 , Holly Bancroft

The rocket that will launch the James Webb Space Telescope has begun fueling for liftoff.

The Telescope is around two hours and thirty minutes from launch and the Ariane 5 rocket has begun filling up with 175 tons of propellant.

150 tons of liquid oxygen and 25 tons of liquid hydrogen are now fueling the rocket’s core stage.

A further 15 tons of propellant will be loaded into the rocket’s upper stage. The fueling is expected to be completed by one hour and 22 minutes before launch, a NASA spokesperson said.

What are scientists hoping to achieve from the James Webb Telescope launch?

09:07 , Holly Bancroft

The James Webb Telescope will try to image the very first stars and galaxies to shine in the universe.

The project, which has taken 30 years to design and build, is expected to shine new light on the beginning of the universe and on our place in it.

The Telescope will be able to do this with the help of a 6.5m-wide golden mirror. The reflecting surface should allow the Telescope to detect the light from the “pioneer” stars. These are stars that are thought to have ignited more than 13.5 billion years ago.

As a result the Webb Telescope should be able to view the cosmos just 100 million years after the Big Bang.

Astronomers have discovered nearly 5,000 planets orbiting other stars in the last 30 years. The James Webb Space Telescope will also begin scanning a sample of the alien worlds to try to find out which ones might harbour the right conditions for life.

Professor Martin Barstow, a scientist who helped develop the device, said: “We will learn about the origins of the universe and how life came about and possible, although we can’t guarantee, about other life in our galaxy as well.”

He added: “The telescope is that important that it’s going to completely change the way we view the universe and the way we view our place in it.”

James Webb Space Telescope launch time and how to watch

Friday 24 December 2021 14:48 , Anthony Cuthbertson

The launch time for the James Webb Space Telescope is currently scheduled for 12.20pm GMT on Saturday, 25 December.

Following years of delays and cost overruns, Nasa was forced to push back the initial launch date on Christmas Eve due to upper-high level wind, but it’s looking good for now.

“There are over 300 things, any one of which goes wrong, it is not a good day,” Nasa Administrator Bill Nelson warned. “So the whole thing has got to work perfectly.”

You’ll find everything you need to know about the launch and how to watch it right here:

What time is the James Webb Telescope launch? How to watch live

Hello and welcome...

Friday 24 December 2021 14:41 , Anthony Cuthbertson

to The Independent’s live coverage of the James Webb Space Telescope launch. There have been several delays to the historic lift-off, but weather is so far looking good for the $10 billion observatory to reach space on Christmas Day.

We’ll have all the latest updates from the launch in French Guiana, as well as a live stream from Nasa as soon as it’s available.

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