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  • Satellite Evolution

Targeted Ariane 5 launch date for James Webb Space Telescope

Arianespace, the European launch service provider, has defined jointly with NASA (the National Aeronautics and Space Administration) and ESA (the European Space Agency) December 18, 2021 as the targeted launch date for Flight VA256. This third Ariane 5 launch of the year 2021 will orbit NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (Webb) from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana. This will be the third Ariane 5 launch of the year, following VA254, which was successful on July 30, 2021, and VA255, which is scheduled for October 22, 2021.

NASA's James Webb Space Telescope Fully Assembled

“We are extremely honored to orbit NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope with Ariane, a ‘first’ for Arianespace and the European space team,” said Stéphane Israël, CEO of Arianespace. “For 14 years, our teams worked hard for Webb’s debut, which is now scheduled for December 18, 2021. It is thrilling to know that, once Ariane 5 will have delivered this mission, we will soon know more about the deepest secrets of our Universe, especially how the first galaxies, stars and planets were born and have been evolving since then.”


Beatriz Romero, Head of Webb project at Arianespace, added: “Today, we are entering into the final preparation phase of the launch campaign. Ahead of us, we will see important milestones, such as the mating of the satellite with the launcher, which will require the highest level of skill, dedication and excellence. All our teams in Continental Europe and in French Guiana are focused on the Webb mission, and are in daily contact with our partners ESA and NASA, and our teams.”


Important milestones of the launch program have already been passed or are upcoming, such as the final mission analysis review for its launch on July 1st, 2021, the shipment of the Ariane 5 launcher elements from continental Europe to French Guiana on August 17, 2021, or the scheduled shipment of Webb to Guiana, by October, 2021.


The James Webb Space Telescope will be the largest, most powerful space telescope ever launched. Following Hubble, Webb is designed to answer profound questions about the Universe and to make breakthrough discoveries in all fields of astronomy. Webb will gaze deeper into our origins: from the formation of stars and planets, to the birth of the first galaxies in the early Universe.


Webb is an international partnership, under the leadership of NASA with the contribution of ESA and CSA. One of ESA’s contributions to the collaboration is the observatory’s launch aboard the Ariane 5 launch vehicle. Working with partners, ESA was also responsible for the development and qualification of Ariane 5 modifications for the mission, such as the upper part elements, in particular the fairing, as well as the flight programs, for the procurement of the launch service and for NIRSPEC and the optical system of MIRI, two key instruments of the Webb telescope.


The VA256 mission will use the Ariane 5 heavy-lift launcher, an ESA programme carried out in cooperation between public institutions and industry. ArianeGroup is the lead contractor for the development and production of Ariane 5, as well as responsible for campaign operations up to liftoff. Ariane 5 is marketed and operated by Arianespace from the Guiana Space Centre in Kourou, with the participation of the French space agency CNES, as responsible for the design and the maintenance of the launch range and the satellite preparation facilities.

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