It is the largest and most expensive NASA space telescope ever built. It will see deeper into the cosmos then its predecessor Hubble.

But the $10 billion (£7.2bn) James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is also by far the US space agency’s most complicated, meaning there will still be scores of potential pitfalls even when it is finally launched next month.

There are more than 300. That is according to NASA, which has estimated there are 344 ways the six-tonne observatory could fail when it takes up its orbit 930,000 miles from Earth.

The JWST will begin “the most complex sequence ever attempted in one space mission” approximately 28 minutes after blast off, according to the US space agency.

NASA has estimated there are 344 ways its James Webb Space Telescope (pictured) could fail when it takes up its orbit 930,000 miles from Earth shortly after its launch on December 18

NASA estimates that there are 344 possible failures of the James Webb Space Telescope (pictured), when it takes up its orbit 930,000 Miles from Earth. This was just after its launch on December 18.


NIRCam(Near InfraRed Cam) An infrared imager that takes images at the edge of the visible and near infrared.  

NIRSpecThe NIR Spectrograph will also perform spectroscopy in the same wavelength range. 

MIRI(Mid InfraRed Instrument) will measure the mid to long-infrared wavelengths from 5 to 27 micrometers.

FGS/NIRISSThe observatory’s line-of sight is stabilized by the Fine Guidance Sensor, Near Infrared Imagingr and Slitless Scotrograph during science observations  

It will be able to unfold itself from its launch rocket once it is in orbit. This process can be compared to an origami exercise reversed.

This will take place over a period about 14 years. It will involve the choreographed movements of all kinds of pulleys and levers, hinges cables, springs, cables, and cables.

‘There are 344 single-point-of-failure items on average,’ according to Mike Menzel, Webb lead mission systems engineer for NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, who said that ‘approximately 80 per cent of those are associated with the deployment’.

He said, “When I started in the business around 40 years ago I remember one of my first lessons was to avoid orbital deployments.

James Webb can’t avoid deployments. James Webb must perform some of most difficult deployment sequences, which come with many challenges.

Northrop Grumman built JWST, with final assembly and testing taking place in August at Redondo Beach’s aerospace manufacturer’s facility. 

Krystal Pug, Northrop Grumman’s JWST Spacecraft Systems Engineer, stated during the briefing that there are 144 release mechanisms for the telescope, all of which must function perfectly.

The $10 billion (£7.2bn) James Webb space telescope is a successor to Hubble, and will allow astronomers to peer deeper into the Universe than ever before

The $10 billion (£7.2bn) James Webb space telescope is a successor to Hubble, and will allow astronomers to peer deeper into the Universe than ever before

The mirror will have to be folded up to fit inside the rocket (artist's impression pictured), before retracting in space

The mirror must be folded up in order to fit inside the rocket (artist’s impression pictured), before it can be retracted in space. 


Ariane 5 (European heavy-lift space launch vehicle) is called Ariane 5. It was built and operated by Arianespace and launched from French Guiana by the European Space Agency. 

It launches satellites into low-Earth orbits and has a record of 82 consecutive successes since its launch in 2003. 

It was built by Aribus and costs up to €185 million (£159 million) per launch to get a payload into space. 

It can carry a maximum payload up to 23,953lb and has a height of 171ft.

Ariane 5 will launch the James Webb space telescope from the L2 point.

She explained that the sunshield is similar to a skydiver’s parachute. It must be folded perfectly so that it unfolds smoothly and deploys without any tangles. 

Alphonso Steward is the JWST deployment systems leader for NASA Goddard. He said that ‘Like an origami item, proper folding and unfolding are necessary in order to achieve a particular shape. 

Menzel stated that the team had reduced as many release mechanisms as possible.

He said that he found the perfect balance between the control he wants and large flexible membranes without adding too many points of failure.

Menzel stressed the importance of the extensive work that was done to ensure the mission’s success. 

He said, “When we identify a single-point failure, we give them very special treatment.”

“We have what is known as a critical item management plan, and we always add inspection points. These devices have also been subject to additional offline testing. 

JWST has been plagued by delays and cost overruns, including many with the readiness of the European Space Agency’s Ariane-5 rocket, which is due to send it up into space on December 18. 

It will take three days for the rocket to reach lunar orbit and 27 days to reach its final orbit.

It will be able to see the first stars in the Universe when it is in position. This mirror is 21ft in diameter, compared to Hubble’s 7.8ft. 

JWST will, however, be more focused on the infrared wavelength than the visible light.

It will allow astronomers to see cosmic dawn (the birth and development of the first stars 13.5 billion year ago) and also reveal atmospheres from distant worlds.

The Canadian Space Agency (CSA), NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, and ESA have created the latest space observatory. This joint project is described as a ‘colossal achievement’ that will transform our view of the universe.

The observatory houses a variety of state-of–the-art cameras and spectrographs as well as the largest astronomical mirror ever launched to space. 


NASA and partners plan on launching their next major satellite telescope later in the year. It will serve as the natural successor of Hubble.

It is primarily an infrared telescope and will offer a wider range of views than Hubble. It will also operate farther out than the Earth in a solar orbit rather than an Earth orbit. 

Research by Ohio State University claims that within five years of it coming online, James Webb will have found signs of alien life on a distant world.

Caprice Phillips, a graduate student, calculated that it could detect ammonia from living creatures on dwarf planets gas after just a few orbits. 

The James Webb telescope was described as a “time machine” that could help uncover the secrets of our universe.

The telescope will be used for looking back at the first galaxies that were born in the early universe over 13.5 billion years ago.

It will also observe stars, exoplanets, as well as the moons, planets, and other sources of stars in our solar system.

The operating temperature of the James Webb Telescope, and most of its instruments, is approximately 40 Kelvin.

This is approximately minus 387 Fahrenheit (minus 23 Celsius). 

Officials from the space agencies responsible for the telescope say the cost may exceed the $8 billion (£5.6 billion) program cap set by Congress.

NASA has already poured $7 billion (£5 billion) into the telescope since it was first proposed as a replacement for the long-running Hubble space telescope.

It will be the world’s largest and most powerful telescope when it launches in 2021.

James Webb is built to last five years, but NASA hopes it will be able to operate for at least a decade. However, it cannot be repaired due to its distance to Earth.

It measures 66ft x 46ft in size and will operate at the Sun-Earth Lagrange point, which is approximately 930,000 miles from Earth. This is almost four times farther than the moon. 

The telescope will be launched on a European-class Ariane-5 rocket at October 2021. The first observations are expected in 2022.