James Webb Space Telescope

James Webb Space Telescope
JWST spacecraft model 2.png
A rendering of the James Webb Space Telescope with its components fully deployed
NamesNext Generation Space Telescope (NGST)
Mission typeAstronomy
OperatorNASA / ESA / CSA / STScI[1]
jwst.stsci.edu telescopiojameswebb.com
Mission duration5 years (design)
10 years (goal)
Spacecraft properties
ManufacturerNorthrop Grumman
Ball Aerospace & Technologies
Launch mass6,500 kilograms (14,300 lb) [2]
Dimensions20.197 by 14.162 metres (66.26 ft × 46.46 ft) (sunshield)
Power2000 watts
Start of mission
Launch date31 October 2021[3]
RocketAriane 5 ECA
Launch siteKourou, ELA-3
Orbital parameters
Reference systemSun–Earth L2 orbit
RegimeHalo orbit
Perigee altitude374,000 kilometres (232,000 mi)[4]
Apogee altitude1,500,000 kilometres (930,000 mi)[4]
Period6 months
TypeKorsch telescope
Diameter6.5 metres (21 ft)
Focal length131.4 metres (431 ft)
Collecting area25.4 square metres (273 sq ft)[5]
Wavelengthsfrom 0.6 μm (orange)
to 28.3 μm (mid-infrared)
BandS-band (TT&C support)
Ka-band (data acquisition)
BandwidthS-band up: 16 kbit/s
S-band down: 40 kbit/s
Ka-band down: up to 28 Mbit/s
JWST logo
James Webb Space Telescope insignia  

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST or "Webb") is a joint NASA-ESA-CSA space telescope that is planned to succeed the Hubble Space Telescope as NASA's flagship astrophysics mission.[6][7] The JWST will provide improved infrared resolution and sensitivity over Hubble, and will enable a broad range of investigations across the fields of astronomy and cosmology, including observing some of the most distant events and objects in the universe, such as the formation of the first galaxies.

The primary mirror of the JWST, the Optical Telescope Element, is composed of eighteen hexagonal mirror segments of 1.32 metres (4 ft 4 in) incircle diameter made of gold-plated beryllium which combine to create a 6.5 metres (21 ft) diameter mirror—considerably larger than Hubble's 2.4 metres (7 ft 10 in) mirror. Unlike the Hubble telescope, which observes in the near ultraviolet, visible, and near infrared (0.1 to 1 μm) spectra, the JWST will observe in a lower frequency range, from long-wavelength visible light through mid-infrared (0.6 to 28.3 μm), which will allow it to observe high redshift objects that are too old and too distant for Hubble to observe.[8][9] The telescope must be kept very cold in order to observe in the infrared without interference, so it will be deployed in space near the Earth–Sun L2 Lagrange point, and a large sunshield made of silicon-coated and aluminium-coated Kapton will keep its mirror and instruments below 50 K (−223.2 °C; −369.7 °F).[10]

The JWST is being developed by NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency. The NASA Goddard Space Flight Center is managing the development effort following operations after launch by Space Telescope Science Institute [11]—and is named for James E. Webb, who was the administrator of NASA from 1961 to 1968 and played an integral role in the Apollo program.[12][13] The prime contractor is Northrop Grumman.[14]

Development began in 1996 for a launch that was initially planned for 2007 and a 500-million-dollar budget,[15] but the project has had numerous delays and cost overruns, and underwent a major redesign in 2005. The JWST's construction was completed in late 2016, after which its extensive testing phase began.[16][17] In March 2018, NASA further delayed the launch after the telescope's sunshield ripped during a practice deployment.[18] Launch was delayed again in June 2018 following recommendations from an independent review board.[19][20][21] Work on integration and testing of the telescope was suspended in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic,[22] adding further delays. Work has resumed, but NASA announced that the launch date has once again been delayed to October 2021.[3][23] Current cost of development is over $10 billion.


Launch configuration of the JWST in an Ariane 5

The JWST has an expected mass about half of Hubble Space Telescope's, but its primary mirror, a 6.5 meter diameter gold-coated beryllium reflector will have a collecting area over six times as large, 25.4 square metres (273 sq ft), using 18 hexagon mirrors with 0.9 square metres (9.7 sq ft) obscuration for the secondary support struts.[24]

The JWST is oriented toward near-infrared astronomy, but can also see orange and red visible light, as well as the mid-infrared region, depending on the instrument. The design emphasizes the near to mid-infrared for three main reasons:

  • high-redshift objects have their visible emissions shifted into the infrared
  • cold objects such as debris disks and planets emit most strongly in the infrared
  • this band is difficult to study from the ground or by existing space telescopes such as Hubble

Ground-based telescopes must look through Earth's atmosphere, which is opaque in many infrared bands (see figure of atmospheric absorption). Even where the atmosphere is transparent, many of the target chemical compounds, such as water, carbon dioxide, and methane, also exist in the Earth's atmosphere, vastly complicating analysis. Existing space telescopes such as Hubble cannot study these bands since their mirrors are insufficiently cool (the Hubble mirror is maintained at about 15 °C (288 K)) thus the telescope itself radiates strongly in the infrared bands.[25]

The JWST will operate near the Earth–Sun L2 (Lagrange point), approximately 1,500,000 kilometres (930,000 mi) beyond Earth's orbit. By way of comparison, Hubble orbits 550 kilometres (340 mi) above Earth's surface, and the Moon is roughly 400,000 kilometres (250,000 mi) from Earth. This distance made post-launch repair or upgrade of the JWST hardware virtually impossible with the spaceships available during the telescope design and fabrication stage. SpaceX says its new Starship has the ability to deliver satellites and space telescopes even larger than the James Webb and is designed to reach Mars orbit.[26] Objects near this Lagrange point can orbit the Sun in synchrony with the Earth, allowing the telescope to remain at a roughly constant distance[27] and use a single sunshield to block heat and light from the Sun and Earth. This arrangement will keep the temperature of the spacecraft below 50 K (−223.2 °C; −369.7 °F), necessary for infrared observations.[10][28]

Sunshield protection

Test unit of the sunshield stacked and expanded at the Northrop Grumman facility in California, 2014

To make observations in the infrared spectrum, the JWST must be kept under 50 K (−223.2 °C; −369.7 °F); otherwise, infrared radiation from the telescope itself would overwhelm its instruments. It therefore uses a large sunshield to block light and heat from the Sun, Earth, and Moon, and its position near the Earth–Sun L2 point keeps all three bodies on the same side of the spacecraft at all times.[29] Its halo orbit around the L2 point avoids the shadow of the Earth and Moon, maintaining a constant environment for the sunshield and solar arrays.[27] The shielding maintains a stable temperature for the structures on the dark side, which is critical to maintaining precise alignment of the primary mirror segments.[citation needed]

The five-layer sunshield, each layer as thin as a human hair,[30] is constructed from Kapton E, a commercially available polyimide film from DuPont, with membranes specially coated with aluminum on both sides and doped silicon on the Sun-facing side of the two hottest layers to reflect the Sun's heat back into space.[31] Accidental tears of the delicate film structure during testing in 2018 were among the factors delaying the project.[32]

The sunshield is designed to be folded twelve times so that it will fit within the Ariane 5 rocket's (4.57 × 16.19 m) payload fairing. Once deployed at the L2 point, it will unfold to 14.162 × 21.197 m. The sunshield was hand-assembled at ManTech (NeXolve) in Huntsville, Alabama, before it was delivered to Northrop Grumman in Redondo Beach, California, for testing.[33]


Main mirror assembled at Goddard Space Flight Center, May 2016

JWST's primary mirror is a 6.5-meter-diameter gold-coated beryllium reflector with a collecting area of 25.4 m2. If it were built as a single large mirror, this would have been too large for existing launch vehicles. The mirror is therefore composed of 18 hexagonal segments which will unfold after the telescope is launched. Image plane wavefront sensing through phase retrieval will be used to position the mirror segments in the correct location using very precise micro-motors. Subsequent to this initial configuration, they will only need occasional updates every few days to retain optimal focus.[34] This is unlike terrestrial telescopes, for example the Keck telescopes, which continually adjust their mirror segments using active optics to overcome the effects of gravitational and wind loading. The Webb telescope will use 126 small motors to occasionally adjust the optics as there is a lack of environmental disturbances of a telescope in space.[35]

JWST's optical design is a three-mirror anastigmat,[36] which makes use of curved secondary and tertiary mirrors to deliver images that are free of optical aberrations over a wide field. In addition, there is a fast steering mirror which can adjust its position many times per second to provide image stabilization.

Ball Aerospace & Technologies is the principal optical subcontractor for the JWST project, led by prime contractor Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems, under a contract from the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, in Greenbelt, Maryland.[2][37] Eighteen primary mirror segments, secondary, tertiary and fine steering mirrors, plus flight spares have been fabricated and polished by Ball Aerospace & Technologies based on beryllium segment blanks manufactured by several companies including Axsys, Brush Wellman, and Tinsley Laboratories.[citation needed]

The final segment of the primary mirror was installed on 3 February 2016,[38] and the secondary mirror was installed on 3 March 2016.[39]

Scientific instruments

NIRCam model
NIRSpec model
MIRI 1:3 scale model

The Integrated Science Instrument Module (ISIM) is a framework that provides electrical power, computing resources, cooling capability as well as structural stability to the Webb telescope. It is made with bonded graphite-epoxy composite attached to the underside of Webb's telescope structure. The ISIM holds the four science instruments and a guide camera.[40]

  • NIRCam (Near InfraRed Camera) is an infrared imager which will have a spectral coverage ranging from the edge of the visible (0.6 micrometers) through the near infrared (5 micrometers).[41][42] NIRCam will also serve as the observatory's wavefront sensor, which is required for wavefront sensing and control activities. NIRCam was built by a team led by the University of Arizona, with principal investigator Marcia J. Rieke. The industrial partner is Lockheed-Martin's Advanced Technology Center located in Palo Alto, California.[43]
  • NIRSpec (Near InfraRed Spectrograph) will also perform spectroscopy over the same wavelength range. It was built by the European Space Agency at ESTEC in Noordwijk, Netherlands. The leading development team includes members from Airbus Defence and Space, Ottobrunn and Friedrichshafen, Germany, and the Goddard Space Flight Center; with Pierre Ferruit (École normale supérieure de Lyon) as NIRSpec project scientist. The NIRSpec design provides three observing modes: a low-resolution mode using a prism, an R~1000 multi-object mode, and an R~2700 integral field unit or long-slit spectroscopy mode.[44] Switching of the modes is done by operating a wavelength preselection mechanism called the Filter Wheel Assembly, and selecting a corresponding dispersive element (prism or grating) using the Grating Wheel Assembly mechanism.[44] Both mechanisms are based on the successful ISOPHOT wheel mechanisms of the Infrared Space Observatory. The multi-object mode relies on a complex micro-shutter mechanism to allow for simultaneous observations of hundreds of individual objects anywhere in NIRSpec's field of view. The mechanisms and their optical elements were designed, integrated and tested by Carl Zeiss Optronics GmbH of Oberkochen, Germany, under contract from Astrium.[44]
  • FGS/NIRISS (Fine Guidance Sensor and Near Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph), led by the Canadian Space Agency under project scientist John Hutchings (Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics, National Research Council (Canada)), is used to stabilize the line-of-sight of the observatory during science observations. Measurements by the FGS are used both to control the overall orientation of the spacecraft and to drive the fine steering mirror for image stabilization. The Canadian Space Agency is also providing a Near Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph (NIRISS) module for astronomical imaging and spectroscopy in the 0.8 to 5 micrometer wavelength range, led by principal investigator René Doyon at the Université de Montréal.[43] Because the NIRISS is physically mounted together with the FGS, they are often referred to as a single unit; however, they serve entirely different purposes, with one being a scientific instrument and the other being a part of the observatory's support infrastructure.

NIRCam and MIRI feature starlight-blocking coronagraphs for observation of faint targets such as extrasolar planets and circumstellar disks very close to bright stars.[46]

The infrared detectors for the NIRCam, NIRSpec, FGS, and NIRISS modules are being provided by Teledyne Imaging Sensors (formerly Rockwell Scientific Company). The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) Integrated Science Instrument Module (ISIM) and Command and Data Handling (ICDH) engineering team uses SpaceWire to send data between the science instruments and the data-handling equipment.[48]

Spacecraft Bus

Diagram of the Spacecraft Bus. The solar panel is in green and the light purple flats are radiators shades.

The Spacecraft Bus is the primary support component of the James Webb Space Telescope, that hosts a multitude of computing, communication, propulsion, and structural parts, bringing the different parts of the telescope together.[49] Along with the sunshield, it forms the spacecraft element of the space telescope.[50] The other two major elements of the JWST are the Integrated Science Instrument Module (ISIM) and the Optical Telescope Element (OTE).[51] Region 3 of ISIM is also inside the Spacecraft Bus; region 3 includes ISIM Command and Data Handling subsystem and the MIRI cryocooler.[51]

The Spacecraft Bus is connected to Optical Telescope Element via the Deployable Tower Assembly, which also connects to the sunshield.[49]

The structure of the Spacecraft Bus weighs 350 kg (about 770 lb), and must support the 6.5-ton space telescope.[52] It is made primarily of graphite composite material.[52] It was assembled in California, assembly was completed in 2015, and then it had to be integrated with the rest of the space telescope leading up to its planned 2021 launch. The bus can provide pointing precision of one arcsecond, and isolates vibration down to two milliarcseconds.[53][clarification needed]

The Spacecraft Bus is on the Sun-facing "warm" side and operates at a temperature of about 300 K.[50] Everything on the Sun facing side must be able to handle the thermal conditions of JWST's halo orbit, which has one side in continuous sunlight and the other in the shade of the spacecraft sunshield.[50]

Another important aspect of the Spacecraft Bus is the central computing, memory storage, and communications equipment.[49] The processor and software direct data to and from the instruments, to the solid-state memory core, and to the radio system which can send data back to Earth and receive commands.[49] The computer also controls the pointing and moment of the spacecraft, taking in sensor data from the gyroscopes and star tracker, and sending the necessary commands to the reaction wheels or thrusters.[49]

Comparison with other telescopes

Comparison with Hubble primary mirror
Calisto architecture for SAFIR would be a successor to Spitzer, requiring greater passive cooling than JWST (5 Kelvin).[54]

The desire for a large infrared space telescope traces back decades. In the United States, the Shuttle Infrared Telescope Facility (SIRTF) was planned while the Space Shuttle was in development, and the potential for infrared astronomy was acknowledged at that time.[55] Compared to ground telescopes, space observatories were free from atmospheric absorption of infrared light. Space observatories opened up a whole "new sky" for astronomers.[55]

The tenuous atmosphere above the 400 km nominal flight altitude has no measurable absorption so that detectors operating at all wavelengths from 5 μm to 1000 μm can achieve high radiometric sensitivity.

— S. G. McCarthy and G. W. Autio, 1978.[55]

However, infrared telescopes have a disadvantage: they need to stay extremely cold, and the longer the wavelength of infrared, the colder they need to be.[25] If not, the background heat of the device itself overwhelms the detectors, making it effectively blind.[25] This can be overcome by careful spacecraft design, in particular by placing the telescope in a dewar with an extremely cold substance, such as liquid helium.[25] This has meant most infrared telescopes have a lifespan limited by their coolant, as short as a few months, maybe a few years at most.[25]

In some cases, it has been possible to maintain a temperature low enough through the design of the spacecraft to enable near-infrared observations without a supply of coolant, such as the extended missions of Spitzer Space Telescope and Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer. Another example is Hubble's Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer (NICMOS) instrument, which started out using a block of nitrogen ice that depleted after a couple of years, but was then converted to a cryocooler that worked continuously. The James Webb Space Telescope is designed to cool itself without a dewar, using a combination of sunshields and radiators, with the mid-infrared instrument using an additional cryocooler.[56]

Selected space telescopes and instruments[57]
Name Year Wavelength Aperture Cooling
IRT 1985 1.7–118 μm 0.15 m Helium
Infrared Space Observatory (ISO)[58] 1995 2.5–240 μm 0.60 m Helium
Hubble Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS) 1997 0.115–1.03 μm 2.4 m Passive
Hubble Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer (NICMOS) 1997 0.8–2.4 μm 2.4 m Nitrogen, later cryocooler
Spitzer Space Telescope 2003 3–180 μm 0.85 m Helium
Hubble Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) 2009 0.2–1.7 μm 2.4 m Passive + Thermo-electric [59]
Herschel Space Observatory 2009 55–672 μm 3.5 m Helium
JWST 2021 0.6–28.5 μm 6.5 m Passive + cryocooler (MIRI)

The James Webb telescope's delays and cost increases can be compared to the Hubble Space Telescope.[60] When Hubble formally started in 1972, it had an estimated development cost of US$300 million (or about US$1 billion in 2006 constant dollars),[60] but by the time it was sent into orbit in 1990, the cost was about four times that.[60] In addition, new instruments and servicing missions increased the cost to at least US$9 billion by 2006.[60]

In contrast to other proposed observatories, most of which have already been canceled or put on hold, including Terrestrial Planet Finder (2011), Space Interferometry Mission (2010), International X-ray Observatory (2011), MAXIM (Microarcsecond X-ray Imaging Mission), SAFIR (Single Aperture Far-Infrared Observatory), SUVO (Space Ultraviolet-Visible Observatory), and the SPECS (Submillimeter Probe of the Evolution of Cosmic Structure), the JWST is the last big NASA astrophysics mission of its generation to be built.[citation needed]



Selected Events
Year Events
1996 NGST started.
2002 named JWST, 8 to 6 m
2004 NEXUS cancelled [61]
2010 MCDR passed
2011 Proposed cancel
2021 Planned launch

Early development work for a Hubble successor between 1989 and 1994 led to the Hi-Z[62] telescope concept, a fully baffled[Note 1] 4-meter aperture infrared telescope that would recede to an orbit at 3 AU.[63] This distant orbit would have benefited from reduced light noise from zodiacal dust.[63] Other early plans called for a NEXUS precursor telescope mission.[64][65]

The JWST originated in 1996 as the Next Generation Space Telescope (NGST). In 2002, it was renamed after NASA's second administrator (1961–1968) James E. Webb (1906–1992), noted for playing a key role in the Apollo program and establishing scientific research as a core NASA activity.[66] The JWST is a project of NASA, with international collaboration from the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.

In the "faster, better, cheaper" era in the mid-1990s, NASA leaders pushed for a low-cost space telescope.[15] The result was the NGST concept, with an 8-meter aperture and located at L2, roughly estimated to cost US$500 million.[15] In 1997, NASA worked with the Goddard Space Flight Center,[67] Ball Aerospace & Technologies,[68] and TRW[69] to conduct technical requirement and cost studies, and in 1999 selected Lockheed Martin[70] and TRW for preliminary concept studies.[71] Launch was at that time planned for 2007, but the launch date has subsequently been pushed back many times (see table further down).

In 2003, NASA awarded the US$824.8 million prime contract for the NGST, now renamed the James Webb Space Telescope, to TRW. The design called for a descoped 6.1 metres (20 ft) primary mirror and a launch date of 2010.[72] Later that year, TRW was acquired by Northrop Grumman in a hostile bid and became Northrop Grumman Space Technology.[71] In March 2021, a commentary in Scientific American urged NASA to rename the James Webb Space Telescope due to Webb's efforts while a NASA administrator, disclosed in 2015, to implement governmental policies in place at the time to purge LGBT individuals from the federal workforce.[73]


NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, is leading the management of the observatory project. The project scientist for the James Webb Space Telescope is John C. Mather. Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems serves as the primary contractor for the development and integration of the observatory. They are responsible for developing and building the spacecraft element, which includes both the spacecraft bus and sunshield. Ball Aerospace & Technologies has been subcontracted to develop and build the Optical Telescope Element (OTE). Northrop Grumman's Astro Aerospace business unit has been contracted to build the Deployable Tower Assembly (DTA) which connects the OTE to the spacecraft bus and the Mid Boom Assembly (MBA) which helps to deploy the large sunshields on orbit.[74] Goddard Space Flight Center is also responsible for providing the Integrated Science Instrument Module (ISIM).[40]

Cost growth revealed in spring 2005 led to an August 2005 re-planning.[75] The primary technical outcomes of the re-planning were significant changes in the integration and test plans, a 22-month launch delay (from 2011 to 2013), and elimination of system-level testing for observatory modes at wavelength shorter than 1.7 micrometers. Other major features of the observatory were unchanged. Following the re-planning, the project was independently reviewed in April 2006. The review concluded the project was technically sound, but that funding phasing at NASA needed to be changed. NASA re-phased its JWST budgets accordingly.[citation needed]

In the 2005 re-plan, the life-cycle cost of the project was estimated at about US$4.5 billion. This comprised approximately US$3.5 billion for design, development, launch and commissioning, and approximately US$1.0 billion for ten years of operations.[75] ESA is contributing about €300 million, including the launch,[76] and the Canadian Space Agency about $39 million Canadian.[77]


A JWST mirror segment, 2010
Mirror segments undergoing cryogenic tests at the X-ray & Cryogenic Facility at Marshall Space Flight Center
The assembled telescope following environmental testing

In January 2007, nine of the ten technology development items in the project successfully passed a Non-Advocate Review.[78] These technologies were deemed sufficiently mature to retire significant risks in the project. The remaining technology development item (the MIRI cryocooler) completed its technology maturation milestone in April 2007. This technology review represented the beginning step in the process that ultimately moved the project into its detailed design phase (Phase C). By May 2007, costs were still on target.[79] In March 2008, the project successfully completed its Preliminary Design Review (PDR). In April 2008, the project passed the Non-Advocate Review. Other passed reviews include the Integrated Science Instrument Module review in March 2009, the Optical Telescope Element review completed in October 2009, and the Sunshield review completed in January 2010.[citation needed]

In April 2010, the telescope passed the technical portion of its Mission Critical Design Review (MCDR). Passing the MCDR signified the integrated observatory can meet all science and engineering requirements for its mission.[80] The MCDR encompassed all previous design reviews. The project schedule underwent review during the months following the MCDR, in a process called the Independent Comprehensive Review Panel, which led to a re-plan of the mission aiming for a 2015 launch, but as late as 2018. By 2010, cost over-runs were impacting other projects, though JWST itself remained on schedule.[81]

By 2011, the JWST project was in the final design and fabrication phase (Phase C). As is typical for a complex design that cannot be changed once launched, there are detailed reviews of every portion of design, construction, and proposed operation. New technological frontiers have been pioneered by the project, and it has passed its design reviews. In the 1990s it was unknown if a telescope so large and low mass was possible.[82]

Assembly of the hexagonal segments of the primary mirror, which was done via robotic arm, began in November 2015 and was completed in February 2016.[83] Final construction of the Webb telescope was completed in November 2016, after which extensive testing procedures began.[84] In March 2018, NASA delayed the JWST's launch an additional year to May 2020 after the telescope's sunshield ripped during a practice deployment and the sunshield's cables did not sufficiently tighten. In June 2018, NASA delayed the JWST's launch an additional 10 months to March 2021, based on the assessment of the independent review board convened after the failed March 2018 test deployment.[20] The review also found JWST had 344 potential single-point failures, any of which could doom the project.[85] In August 2019, the mechanical integration of the telescope was completed, something that was scheduled to be done 12 years before in 2007. Following this, engineers now are working to add a five layer sunshield in place to prevent damage to telescope parts from infrared rays of the Sun.[86]

Cost and schedule issues

Then-planned launch and total budget
Year Planned
Budget plan
(Billion USD)
1997 2007 [82] 0.5 [82]
1998 2007 [87] 1 [60]
1999 2007 to 2008 [88] 1 [60]
2000 2009 [45] 1.8 [60]
2002 2010 [89] 2.5 [60]
2003 2011 [90] 2.5 [60]
2005 2013 3 [91]
2006 2014 4.5 [92]
2008, Preliminary Design Review
2008 2014 5.1 [93]
2010, Critical Design Review
2010 2015 to 2016 6.5 [94]
2011 2018 8.7 [95]
2013 2018 8.8 [96]
2017 2019 [97] 8.8
2018 2020 [98] ≥8.8
2019 Mar 2021 [99] 9.66
2020 Oct 2021 [3] ≥10 [35]

The JWST has a history of major cost overruns and delays which have resulted in part from outside factors such as delays in deciding on a launch vehicle and adding extra funding for contingencies. By 2006, US$1 billion had been spent on developing JWST, with the budget at about US$4.5 billion at that time. A 2006 article in the journal Nature noted a study in 1984 by the Space Science Board, which estimated that a next generation infrared observatory would cost US$4 billion (about US$7 billion in 2006 dollars).[60] By October 2019, the estimated cost of the project had reached US$10 billion for launch in 2021.[35]

The telescope was originally estimated to cost US$1.6 billion,[100] but the cost estimate grew throughout the early development and had reached about US$5 billion by the time the mission was formally confirmed for construction start in 2008. In summer 2010, the mission passed its Critical Design Review (CDR) with excellent grades on all technical matters, but schedule and cost slips at that time prompted Maryland US Senator Barbara Mikulski to call for an independent review of the project. The Independent Comprehensive Review Panel (ICRP) chaired by J. Casani (JPL) found that the earliest possible launch date was in late 2015 at an extra cost of US$1.5 billion (for a total of US$6.5 billion). They also pointed out that this would have required extra funding in FY2011 and FY2012 and that any later launch date would lead to a higher total cost.[94]

On 6 July 2011, the United States House of Representatives' appropriations committee on Commerce, Justice, and Science moved to cancel the James Webb project by proposing an FY2012 budget that removed US$1.9 billion from NASA's overall budget, of which roughly one quarter was for JWST.[101][102][103][104] US$3 billion had been spent and 75% of its hardware was in production.[105] This budget proposal was approved by subcommittee vote the following day. The committee charged that the project was "billions of dollars over budget and plagued by poor management".[101] In response, the American Astronomical Society issued a statement in support of JWST,[106] as did Maryland US Senator Barbara Mikulski.[107] A number of editorials supporting JWST appeared in the international press during 2011 as well.[101][108][109] In November 2011, Congress reversed plans to cancel the JWST and instead capped additional funding to complete the project at US$8 billion.[110]

Some scientists have expressed concerns about growing costs and schedule delays for the Webb telescope, which competes for scant astronomy budgets and thus threatens funding for other space science programs.[111][96] Because the runaway budget diverted funding from other research, a 2010 Nature article described the JWST as "the telescope that ate astronomy".[112]

A review of NASA budget records and status reports noted that the JWST is plagued by many of the same problems that have affected other major NASA projects. Repairs and additional testing included underestimates of the telescope's cost that failed to budget for expected technical glitches, missed budget projections, and evaluation of components to estimate extreme launch conditions, thus extending the schedule and increasing costs further.[96][100][113]

One reason for the early cost growth is that it is difficult to forecast the cost of development, and in general budget predictability improved when initial development milestones were achieved.[96] By the mid-2010s, the U.S. contribution was still expected to cost US$8.8 billion.[96] In 2007, the expected ESA contribution was about €350 million.[114] With the U.S. and international funding combined, the overall cost not including extended operations is projected to be over US$10 billion when completed.[115] On 27 March 2018, NASA officials announced that JWST's launch would be pushed back to May 2020 or later, and admitted that the project's costs might exceed the US$8.8 billion price tag.[98] In the 27 March 2018 press release announcing the latest delay, NASA said that it will release a revised cost estimate after a new launch window is determined in cooperation with the European Space Agency (ESA).[116] If this cost estimate exceeds the US$8 billion cap Congress put in place in 2011, as is considered unavoidable, NASA will have to have the mission re-authorized by the legislature.[117][118]

In February 2019, despite expressing criticism over cost growth, Congress increased the mission's cost cap by US$800 million.[119] In October 2019, the total cost estimate for the project reached US$10 billion.[35]


NASA, ESA and CSA have collaborated on the telescope since 1996. ESA's participation in construction and launch was approved by its members in 2003 and an agreement was signed between ESA and NASA in 2007. In exchange for full partnership, representation and access to the observatory for its astronomers, ESA is providing the NIRSpec instrument, the Optical Bench Assembly of the MIRI instrument, an Ariane 5 ECA launcher, and manpower to support operations.[76][120] The CSA will provide the Fine Guidance Sensor and the Near-Infrared Imager Slitless Spectrograph plus manpower to support operations.[121]

Participating countries

Public displays and outreach

Early full-scale model on display at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (2005)

A large telescope model has been on display at various places since 2005: in the United States at Seattle, Washington; Colorado Springs, Colorado; Greenbelt, Maryland; Rochester, New York; Manhattan, New York City; and Orlando, Florida; and elsewhere at Paris, France; Dublin, Ireland; Montréal, Canada; Hatfield, United Kingdom; and Munich, Germany. The model was built by the main contractor, Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems.[122]

In May 2007, a full-scale model of the telescope was assembled for display at the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum on the National Mall, Washington, D.C. The model was intended to give the viewing public a better understanding of the size, scale and complexity of the satellite, as well as pique the interest of viewers in science and astronomy in general. The model is significantly different from the telescope, as the model must withstand gravity and weather, so is constructed mainly of Aluminium and steel measuring approximately 24 by 12 by 12 metres (79 ft × 39 ft × 39 ft) and weighs 5,500 kilograms (12,100 lb).[citation needed]

The model was on display in New York City's Battery Park during the 2010 World Science Festival, where it served as the backdrop for a panel discussion featuring Nobel Prize laureate John C. Mather, astronaut John M. Grunsfeld and astronomer Heidi Hammel. In March 2013, the model was on display in Austin for SXSW 2013.[123][124] Amber Straughn, the deputy project scientist for science communications, has been a spokesperson for the project at many SXSW events from 2013 on in addition to Comic Con, TEDx, and other public venues.[125]


The JWST has four key goals:

These goals can be accomplished more effectively by observation in near-infrared light rather than light in the visible part of the spectrum. For this reason the JWST's instruments will not measure visible or ultraviolet light like the Hubble Telescope, but will have a much greater capacity to perform infrared astronomy. The JWST will be sensitive to a range of wavelengths from 0.6 (orange light) to 28 micrometres (deep infrared radiation at about 100 K (−173 °C; −280 °F)).

JWST may be used to gather information on the dimming light of star KIC 8462852, which was discovered in 2015, and has some abnormal light-curve properties.[127]

Launch and mission length

As of March 2021, launch is planned by October 2021, on an Ariane 5 rocket from French Guiana.[35][3] The observatory attaches to the Ariane 5 rocket via a launch vehicle adapter ring which could be used by a future spacecraft to grapple the observatory to attempt to fix gross deployment problems. However, the telescope itself is not serviceable, and astronauts would not be able to perform tasks such as swapping instruments, as with the Hubble Telescope.[2] Its nominal mission time is five years, with a goal of ten years.[128] JWST needs to use propellant to maintain its halo orbit around L2, which provides an upper limit to its designed lifetime, and it is being designed to carry enough for ten years.[129] The planned five year science mission begins after a 6-month commissioning phase.[129] An L2 orbit is only meta-stable, so it requires orbital station-keeping, or an object will drift away from this orbital configuration.[130]


JWST will not be exactly at the L2 point, but circle around it in a halo orbit.
Two alternate Hubble Space Telescope views of the Carina Nebula, comparing ultraviolet and visible (top) and infrared (bottom) astronomy. Far more stars are visible in the latter.

The JWST will be located near the second Lagrange point (L2) of the Earth-Sun system, which is 1,500,000 kilometres (930,000 mi) from Earth, directly opposite to the Sun. Normally an object circling the Sun farther out than Earth would take longer than one year to complete its orbit, but near the L2 point the combined gravitational pull of the Earth and the Sun allow a spacecraft to orbit the Sun in the same time it takes the Earth. The telescope will circle about the L2 point in a halo orbit, which will be inclined with respect to the ecliptic, have a radius of approximately 800,000 kilometres (500,000 mi), and take about half a year to complete.[27] Since L2 is just an equilibrium point with no gravitational pull, a halo orbit is not an orbit in the usual sense: the spacecraft is actually in orbit around the Sun, and the halo orbit can be thought of as controlled drifting to remain in the vicinity of the L2 point.[131] This requires some station-keeping: around 2–4 m/s per year[132] from the total budget of 150 m/s.[133] Two sets of thrusters constitute the observatory's propulsion system.[134]

Infrared astronomy

Infrared observations can see objects hidden in visible light, such as the HUDF-JD2 shown here.

JWST is the formal successor to the Hubble Space Telescope (HST), and since its primary emphasis is on infrared astronomy, it is also a successor to the Spitzer Space Telescope. JWST will far surpass both those telescopes, being able to see many more and much older stars and galaxies.[135] Observing in the infrared spectrum is a key technique for achieving this, because of cosmological redshift, and because it better penetrates obscuring dust and gas. This allows observation of dimmer, cooler objects. Since water vapor and carbon dioxide in the Earth's atmosphere strongly absorbs most infrared, ground-based infrared astronomy is limited to narrow wavelength ranges where the atmosphere absorbs less strongly. Additionally, the atmosphere itself radiates in the infrared spectrum, often overwhelming light from the object being observed. This makes a space telescope preferable for infrared observation.[136]

The more distant an object is, the younger it appears: its light has taken longer to reach human observers. Because the universe is expanding, as the light travels it becomes red-shifted, and objects at extreme distances are therefore easier to see if viewed in the infrared.[137] JWST's infrared capabilities are expected to let it see back in time to the first galaxies forming just a few hundred million years after the Big Bang.[138]

Infrared radiation can pass more freely through regions of cosmic dust that scatter visible light. Observations in infrared allow the study of objects and regions of space which would be obscured by gas and dust in the visible spectrum,[137] such as the molecular clouds where stars are born, the circumstellar disks that give rise to planets, and the cores of active galaxies.[137]

Relatively cool objects (temperatures less than several thousand degrees) emit their radiation primarily in the infrared, as described by Planck's law. As a result, most objects that are cooler than stars are better studied in the infrared.[137] This includes the clouds of the interstellar medium, brown dwarfs, planets both in our own and other solar systems, comets, and Kuiper belt objects that will be observed with the Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI).[45][138]

Some of the missions in infrared astronomy that impacted JWST development were Spitzer and the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) probe.[139] Spitzer showed the importance of mid-infrared, which is helpful for tasks such as observing dust disks around stars.[139] Also, the WMAP probe showed the universe was "lit up" at redshift 17, further underscoring the importance of the mid-infrared.[139] Both these missions were launched in the early 2000s, in time to influence JWST development.[139]

Ground support and operations

The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), located in Baltimore, Maryland, on the Homewood Campus of Johns Hopkins University, was selected as the Science and Operations Center (S&OC) for JWST with an initial budget of US$162.2 million intended to support operations through the first year after launch.[140] In this capacity, STScI will be responsible for the scientific operation of the telescope and delivery of data products to the astronomical community. Data will be transmitted from JWST to the ground via the NASA Deep Space Network, processed and calibrated at STScI, and then distributed online to astronomers worldwide. Similar to how Hubble is operated, anyone, anywhere in the world, will be allowed to submit proposals for observations. Each year several committees of astronomers will peer review the submitted proposals to select the projects to observe in the coming year. The authors of the chosen proposals will typically have one year of private access to the new observations, after which the data will become publicly available for download by anyone from the online archive at STScI.

The bandwidth and digital throughput of the satellite is designed to operate at 458 gigabits of data per day for the length of the mission.[35] Most of the data processing on the telescope is done by conventional single-board computers.[141] The conversion of the analog science data to digital form is performed by the custom-built SIDECAR ASIC (System for Image Digitization, Enhancement, Control And Retrieval Application Specific Integrated Circuit). NASA stated that the SIDECAR ASIC will include all the functions of a 9.1 kilograms (20 lb) instrument box in a 3 cm package and consume only 11 milliwatts of power.[142] Since this conversion must be done close to the detectors, on the cool side of the telescope, the low power use of this IC will be crucial for maintaining the low temperature required for optimal operation of the JWST.[142]

After-launch deployment

Nearly a month after launch, a trajectory correction will be initiated to place the JWST into a Halo orbit at the L2 Lagrange point.[143][clarification needed]

Once in position, JWST will go through the process of deploying its sunshade, mirror, and arm, which will take around three weeks.[144] The mirror is in three pieces that will swing into place with motors.[144]

Animation of James Webb Space Telescope trajectory
Polar view
Equatorial view

Allocation of observation times

JWST observing time will be allocated through a General Observers (GO) program, a Guaranteed Time Observations (GTO) program, and a Director's Discretionary Early Release Science (DD-ERS) program.[145] The GTO program provides guaranteed observing time for scientists who developed hardware and software components for the observatory. The GO program provides all astronomers the opportunity to apply for observing time and will represent the bulk of the observing time. GO programs will be selected through peer review by a Time Allocation Committee (TAC), similar to the proposal review process used for the Hubble Space Telescope. JWST observing time is expected to be highly oversubscribed.

Early Release Science Program

Atmospheric windows in the infrared: Much of this type of light is blocked when viewed from the Earth's surface. It would be like looking at a rainbow but only seeing one color.

In November 2017, the Space Telescope Science Institute announced the selection of 13 Director's Discretionary Early Release Science (DD-ERS) programs, chosen through a competitive proposal process.[146] The observations for these programs will be obtained during the first five months of JWST science operations after the end of the commissioning period. A total of 460 hours of observing time was awarded to these 13 programs, which span science topics including the Solar System, exoplanets, stars and star formation, nearby and distant galaxies, gravitational lenses, and quasars.

See also


  1. ^ "Baffled", in this context, means enclosed in a tube in a similar manner to a conventional optical telescope, which helps to stop stray light entering the telescope from the side. For an actual example, see the following link: Freniere, E.R. (1981). "First-order design of optical baffles". Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers (SPIE) Conference Series, First-order design of optical baffles. Radiation Scattering in Optical Systems. 257. pp. 19–28. Bibcode:1981SPIE..257...19F. doi:10.1117/12.959598.


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External links

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