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NASA's James Webb Space Telescope on track for Dec. 22 launch

Artist's illustration of the James Webb Space Telescope with its massive sunshield fully deployed.
Artist's illustration of the James Webb Space Telescope with its massive sunshield fully deployed. (Image credit: Northrop Grumman)

NASA's much-delayed James Webb Space Telescope remains on track to launch next month.

Further testing on the huge observatory has confirmed that Webb's liftoff, atop an Ariane 5 rocket from French Guiana, is still targeted for Dec. 22, NASA officials wrote in a blog post last week

The $9.8 billion Webb has experienced years of technical delays, funding issues and a pandemic. And it suffered another delay, albeit a slight one, earlier this month during its final preparations for launch. 

Related: Building the James Webb Space Telescope (gallery)

On Nov. 22, NASA reported that a clamp band that holds Webb to its launch vehicle adapter had released unexpectedly recently, causing vibrations throughout the telescope. The incident required further investigation, pushing back the observatory's launch date from its target (at the time) of Dec. 18.

Last week's blog post reports that technicians have performed more testing following the incident, clearing the way for Webb to launch on Dec. 22.

"Engineering teams completed ... tests, and a NASA-led anomaly review board concluded no observatory components were damaged in the incident," the agency wrote in the Nov. 24 blog post. 

NASA and its Webb partners next ran a "consent to fuel" review, which was approved, to begin tanking up the Arianespace Ariane 5 rocket. With that milestone passed, fueling began on Nov. 25 and is expected to last 10 days.

Webb's journey will only just begin after reaching space. It will take Webb a month to get to its destination, a stable gravitational location in space known as a Lagrange point. Once it gets to that spot, which lies about 930,000 miles (1.5 million kilometers) from Earth, Webb will spend six months in a commissioning period to ensure its complex mirror unfolds and that all instruments are ready for observations.

It's unclear where Webb will turn its attention first, but the telescope's "early release science programs" include a range of programs in planets, the solar system, galaxies, black holes, stellar physics and star populations. 

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Elizabeth Howell

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a contributing writer for Space.com since 2012. As a proud Trekkie and Canadian, she tackles topics like spaceflight, diversity, science fiction, astronomy and gaming to help others explore the universe. Elizabeth's on-site reporting includes two human spaceflight launches from Kazakhstan, and embedded reporting from a simulated Mars mission in Utah. She holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, and a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University. Her latest book, NASA Leadership Moments, is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday.