All hail the Ariane 5 rocket, which doubled the Webb telescope’s lifetime

The Ariane 5 rocket, with the James Webb Space Telescope, at its launch site in French Guiana.

Enlarge / The Ariane 5 rocket, with the James Webb Space Telescope, at its launch site in French Guiana. (credit: ESA/S. Corvaja)

There were two stunningly good pieces of news about the James Webb Space Telescope this weekend. One was widely reported—that after an intricate, two-week process, the telescope completed its deployment without any difficulties. The next steps toward science operations are more conventional.

The other piece of news, less well-covered but still important, emerged during a news conference on Saturday. NASA’s Mission Systems Engineer for the Webb telescope, Mike Menzel, said the agency had completed its analysis of how much “extra” fuel remained on board the telescope. Roughly speaking, Menzel said, Webb has enough propellant on board for 20 years of life.

This is twice the conservative pre-launch estimate for Webb’s lifetime of a decade, and it largely comes down to the performance of the European Ariane 5 rocket that launched Webb on a precise trajectory on Christmas Day.

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