10 years: That is how long the fuel in the James Webb telescope should definitely last. But now comes the good news. Since launch and placement in orbit were possible with high precision and thus fewer course corrections were necessary, Webb will live “significantly” longer.
James Webb Telescope has more fuel left than hoped
For space missions, scientists like to communicate very conservative estimates of the lifespan of the probes – after all, there are countless factors that can prevent continued operation. In James Webb’s case, the fuel used to correct course is the limiting factor. Before the start, 5 years had been specified as the absolute “minimum period” for the mission; in terms of fuel, the communicated limit was around 10 years.
After the start and a precise check of the current trajectory, the NASA experts can now announce very good news: “The observatory should have enough fuel to ensure scientific operation in orbit for well over 10 years.” Accordingly, the analysis shows that significantly less fuel than planned was required to correct Webb’s trajectory in the direction of the targeted location in space.
Webb owes the unexpectedly economical journey to large parts of the precision of the Ariane 5 launcher, which according to NASA was “able to exceed” all requirements. This in turn made it possible to carry out the first two-course correction maneuvers particularly sparingly. Webb will start work at the so-called Lagrange point (L2) – a place of gravitational equilibrium on the side of the earth facing away from the sun. To linger here, small “station keeping” maneuvers have to be carried out again and again. The reserves are now well filled for this.
Solar cells extend faster
After take-off, observers were somewhat astonished by the rapid unfolding of the solar cells, which was actually expected around 33 minutes after leaving the launch pad. Here, too, the particular precision of the start provides an explanation. Webb had control over the process itself and should trigger it when a certain position was reached. “Since Webb was already in the right position after separating from the second stage of the Ariane 5, the solar panel was able to unfold about a minute and a half after the separation, i.e. about 29 minutes after the launch.” NASA