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News Release 99 of 143

September 11, 2002 12:00 AM (EDT)

News Release Number: STScI-2002-20

NASA Announces Contract for Next-Generation Space Telescope Named After Space Pioneer

September 11, 2002: NASA has selected TRW to build the Next Generation Space Telescope (NGST), a successor to the Hubble Space Telescope. This space-based observatory will be known as the James Webb Space Telescope, named after James E. Webb, NASA's second administrator. While Webb is best known for leading Apollo and a series of lunar exploration programs that landed the first humans on the Moon, he also initiated a vigorous space science program, responsible for more than 75 launches during his tenure, including America's first interplanetary explorers.

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Q & A: Understanding the Discovery

  1. 1. When will the James Webb Space Telescope be launched into space?

  2. The telescope is scheduled for launch in 2010 aboard an expendable launch vehicle. It will take about three months for the spacecraft to reach its destination, an orbit 940,000 miles or 1.5 million kilometers in space, called the second Lagrange Point or L2, where the spacecraft is balanced between the gravity of the Sun and the Earth. Unlike Hubble, space shuttle astronauts will not service the James Webb Space Telescope because it will be too far away. Before and during launch, the mirror will be folded up. Once the telescope is placed in its orbit, ground controllers will send a message telling the telescope to unfold its high-tech mirror petals.

  3. 2. What type of science instruments will be onboard the space observatory?

  4. To see into the depths of space, the James Webb Space Telescope is currently planned to carry instruments that are sensitive to the infrared wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum. The new telescope will carry a near-infrared camera, a multi-object spectrometer and a mid-infrared camera/spectrometer.

    The James Webb Space Telescope will be able to look deeper into the universe than Hubble because of the increased light-collecting power of its larger mirror and the extraordinary sensitivity of its instruments to infrared light. Webb's primary mirror will be at least 20 feet in diameter, providing much more light-gathering capability than Hubble's eight-foot primary mirror.

  5. 3. What cosmic mysteries will this infrared telescope help to untangle?

  6. The telescope's infrared capabilities are required to help astronomers understand how galaxies first emerged out of the darkness that followed the rapid expansion and cooling of the universe just a few hundred million years after the big bang. The light from the youngest galaxies is seen in the infrared due to the universe's expansion.

    Looking closer to home, the James Webb Space Telescope will probe the formation of planets in disks around young stars, and study supermassive black holes in other galaxies.

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Credit: NASA, Andrew Benson (University of Durham, United Kingdom), and the NGST Science Team (STScI)