A New Telescope Is Set to Launch

A close-up look at the James Webb Space Telescope at Northrop Grumman

“How did we get here?” “Are we alone?” These are the questions that scientists hope the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) will answer.

Named for former NASA administrator James E. Webb, the telescope is set to launch on March 30, 2021. It is the most powerful observatory ever created.

On a recent visit to Northrop Grumman in Redondo Beach, California, I got a close-up look at the JWST, which has a sunshield the size of a tennis court. The telescope is seven times larger than the Hubble, which was launched into low Earth orbit in 1990. 



NASA began building the JWST 17 years ago, with help from the European and Canadian space agencies. Northrop Grumman, an aerospace and military defense company, heads up the design and construction. 

When the JWST launches next year, it will be sent 1 million miles into space—four times farther than the Moon. Researchers hope that the telescope will enable them to peer back 13.7 billion years and see the first stars and galaxies forming. The JWST will also look for signs of extraterrestrial life. 


Johnny at Northrop Grumman with Scott Willoughby, vice president and program manager for the James Webb Space Telescope


The JWST will be the largest observatory ever launched into space. It weighs about 14,000 pounds and must be able to operate in extreme conditions and temperatures.

There have been many setbacks with the design, construction, and testing of the telescope, which was initially set to launch in 2014. But scientists on the project are persevering.

During my visit to Northrop Grumman, Scott Willoughby, vice president and program manager for the JWST, had a message for aspiring scientists: “Don’t give up if it’s hard.”


Photos courtesy of the author