James Webb Space Telescope has enough fuel for way more than 10 years of science

NASA’s latest flagship space observatory ought to have enough fuel to more than double its minimal mission life peering into the historical past of the universe, in response to an agency replace.

The long-awaited James Webb Space Telescope, a collaboration with the Canadian and European space businesses led by NASA, launched into space Saturday (Dec. 25) on an Ariane 5 rocket. Often billed as a successor to the agency’s iconic Hubble Space Telescope, Webb (often known as  JWST) is designed to give attention to infrared gentle, giving astronomers a take a look at the earliest days of the universe. Despite an formidable science agenda, the mission was designed with only a five-year minimal lifetime — however with the observatory lastly in space, NASA is assured that it’s going to have enough fuel to see a lot more use than that.

“The Webb team has analyzed its initial trajectory and determined the observatory should have enough propellant to allow support of science operations in orbit for significantly more than a 10-year science lifetime,” NASA officers wrote in a statement posted Wednesday (Dec. 29).” For comparison, the Hubble Space Telescope has lasted more than 30 years. 

Live updates: NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope mission
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“Incredible information! Congratulations to the crew!” Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s affiliate administrator for science, wrote in a tweet also posted Wednesday. “The further propellant is basically because of the precision of the @Arianespace Ariane 5 launch, which exceeded the necessities wanted to place @NASAWebb on the fitting path, in addition to the precision of the primary mid-course correction maneuver.”

That said, the agency noted that it can’t provide a specific estimate for how long the observatory will last.

“The evaluation reveals that much less propellant than initially deliberate for is required to right Webb’s trajectory towards its ultimate orbit,” officials wrote in the statement. “Consequently, Webb could have a lot more than the baseline estimate of propellant — although many elements might finally have an effect on Webb’s period of operation.”

Webb has completed two of the three burns required to see it to its final destination; the final burn will take place nearly a month after launch and will mark the last step in the observatory’s perilous deployment process. The first maneuver occurred on Saturday after launch, with the second taking place Monday (Dec. 27).

Webb is destined to orbit a location in space known as the second Earth-sun Lagrange point, or L2, which is nearly 1 million miles (1.5 million kilometers) away from Earth in the direction opposite of the sun. Here, the telescope will be less vulnerable to solar radiation that can interfere with its infrared observations.

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Lagrange points are sometimes nicknamed “parking” spots for spacecraft, as they mark locations where the gravitational tugs of different bodies balance out. However, throughout its stay at L2, Webb will need to conduct occasional small thruster burns for “station protecting” and “momentum administration” to retain its proper location and orientation in space.

That’s what the propellant remaining after the third burn will be used for. And Webb will have more fuel left in its tank than NASA had dared to hope. The initial launch precisely targeted the observatory’s desired trajectory, meaning the spacecraft needed to spend less time and fuel on its first two correction maneuvers.

Email Meghan Bartels at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @meghanbartels. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook. 

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