The successor to the Hubble must evade 344 potential ‘single point failures’ to achieve its ambitious mission

NASA’s long-delayed James Webb Space Telescope, a $10 billion marvel of engineering and scientific ambition, is finally poised to rocket into deep space from a launchpad in French Guiana, on the northeast shoulder of South America. What happens in the following days and weeks will either change our understanding of the universe or deliver a crushing blow to NASA and the global astronomical community, the Washington Post reports.

The Webb must cruise for 29 days to a unique orbit around the sun that keeps it roughly 1 million miles from Earth, four times the distance to the moon. At launch, it will be folded upon itself, a shrouded package inside the cone of the European Space Agency’s Ariane 5 rocket. After it escapes Earth’s gravity, it must begin opening up, blossoming into a functioning telescope.

That starts with the deployment of the solar panels to make the whole thing work. Next comes the unfurling of a tennis-court-size expanse of multilayered foil — the sun shield, akin to a giant umbrella, ideally more reliable than what you would get from a drugstore.

The James Webb Space Telescope will ascend to orbit in the payload section of an Ariane 5 rocket and unfold to its full size once it reaches orbit.

The centerpiece of the telescope is a 21-foot-diameter mirror assembly, nearly three times the size of the mirror aboard the Hubble Space Telescope it’s meant to replace.

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