Designed and built by NASA in partnership with the Canadian and European Space Agencies, the Webb will be a ‘flagship’ space observatory. An infrared specialist, it will be able to explore the distant Universe and the evolution of planets, stars and galaxies as never before.
He was NASA administrator during the height of the space race and instrumental in getting humans to the Moon. He also oversaw the first US interplanetary probe missions. As a tribute to this legacy, the telescope bears his name.
There are more details here but it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to say: ‘the origins of life, the Universe and everything.’
The construction of Webb is a global enterprise, involving 14 countries, and the UK has been active since its earliest stages of development. Our main contribution has been leading the design and construction of one of the four science instruments, the Mid-infrared Instrument (MIRI), in a partnership with JPL, ESA and a number of European institutes. As well as manufacturing key parts of MIRI in the UK, the ESA-led NIRSPEC instrument has had components built here in the UK. UK companies have won contracts from NASA to build parts of the spacecraft too. Many UK-based researchers will also be looking forward to working with the first data from Webb.
Spitzer is another infra-red specialist which was retired in 2020 as it drifted further from Earth. The large mirror of the Webb allows it to reach greater depths and resolve much finer detail than Spitzer. The Webb also has the capability to perform simultaneous measurements of hundreds of galaxies at the same time, giving it a clear advantage in building up large samples of objects. The primary factor in the end of the Spitzer main mission was that it ran out of coolant for its detectors and in the case of the Webb, it will not be coolant that limits the lifespan of the mission but the propellant required to keep it on station.