The JWST, named after one of the architects of the Apollo Moon landings and the successor to the Hubble telescope is on a mission to answer questions about our solar system, study exoplanets in new ways and look deeper into the universe than we’ve ever been able to.
After take off, the Kenyan Malindi station picked the “first signals” to Earth, forming the first point of contact between the vehicle and its observers during the critical mission.
On Saturday, after enduring years of delays, including a combination of factors brought on by the pandemic and technical challenges, it soared riding a European Ariane rocket into the morning sky.
Estimated to cost at around US$ 10 billion (Ksh. 1.1 trillion), James Webb Space Telescope is said to be the world’s largest and most powerful space telescope rocketed away on a high-stakes quest to behold light from the first stars and galaxies and scour the universe for hints of life.
“It’s going to give us a better understanding of our universe and our place in it: who we are, what we are, the search that’s eternal,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said earlier this week. 100 times more than its predecessor, it carries the largest, most ambitious space telescope in history cleared the Launchpad in French Guiana, and the members of mission control at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore roared their elation.
The voyage will now begin six months of commissioning in space. At the end of commissioning, Webb will deliver its first images.
Its capabilities will enable the observatory to answer questions about our own solar system and investigate faint signals from the first galaxies formed 13.5 billion years ago.
Other objects of interest for the initial science campaign include observing the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way, actively forming planetary systems, bright quasars at the center of galaxies, and leftovers from the formation of our solar system known as Kuiper Belt Objects.
So, why is Malindi critical for the JWST mission?
According to phy.org, Malindi will have three phases of visibility with the mission.
“At first, the ESA station will be in a “private call” with Webb for the first hour after separation, after which NASA’s Deep Space Antenna in Canberra, Australia, will join the call. Malindi will then switch to backup.”
When the spacecraft is no longer visible from Canberra, Malindi will again take over one more time before.
The station is 10 meters across and “relatively nimble in its pointing”. It’s used by ESA for the launch and early operations phases of a mission’s life, “when a rocket or satellite moves quite quickly overhead” within the Earth’s atmosphere.
Twenty-three minutes after lift-off, Malindi was expected to locate the Ariane 5 launch vehicle in flight, only five minutes before Webb separated from the rocket to begin its lone life in space.
The Malindi Satellite launching and tracking base was launched in 1964 through a collaboration between Kenya and Italy.
It has launched over 20 sounding rockets & 9 rockets launched from the station (1967-1989).