Science

Ariane 5 is set to launch Web Telescope after a successful flight-test

Webb Telescope

According to the European Space Agency, the payload fairing of the most recent Ariane 5 launch last month operated flawlessly, easing worries about the shroud before the James Webb Space Telescope liftoff on the following Ariane 5 flight in December.

The nose cone structure, constructed by the Swiss firm RUAG Space, is intended to safeguard vital satellites on the launch pad before liftoff and during the initial few minutes of ascent through the atmosphere. Once in orbit, the rocket separates the no-longer-needed fairing into two halves, similar to clamshell halves.

Last year, on two Ariane 5 flights, the payload fairing parted from the launcher in a less-than-perfect way, causing vibrations on the rocket’s satellite passengers to exceed safety restrictions. The payload fairing separation abnormalities did not harm the satellites, and the Ariane 5 safely delivered the payloads to their proper orbits.

However, Arianespace, the commercial launch operator for the Ariane 5, suspended missions to examine the fairing issue. Arianespace modified the fairing for the two most recent Ariane 5 missions on July 30 and October 23.

According to Daniel De Chambure, interim head of the European Space Agency’s Ariane 5 adaption program, those missions verified the fairing modification.

The latest mission was completely faultless regarding fairing separation, both launcher dynamics and kinematical separation effects, said de Chambure on Friday during a media tour of the Ariane 5 launch facility in Kourou, French Guiana. There is no longer any concern for Arianespace, NASA, or ESA over the anomaly last year.

On October 28, management from NASA, ESA, and Arianespace examined the Ariane 5 fairing data and other mission issues during a flight readiness review. The readiness evaluation cleared the route for the Ariane 5 launch campaign to begin at the Guiana Space Center, a European-run spaceport on South America’s northern coast.

The Ariane 5 rocket’s core stage was hoisted onto a movable launch platform Saturday inside the launcher integration building by spaceport workers. Two solid rocket boosters, already loaded with powder fuel, will be placed on each side of the core stage in the next few days.

Arianespace will move the Ariane 5 to a nearby final assembly building after stacking the rocket’s upper stage and avionics compartment. The 35-foot-tall Webb telescope will be lifted on top of the launcher. The payload fairing, which will encase Webb, is the penultimate element to be attached.

The Ariane 5 will be delivered to the launch pad on December 16 in preparation for liftoff on December 18 at 7:20 a.m. EST.

After separating from the Ariane 5, the James Webb Space Telescope folds up origami-style to fit under the payload shroud of the Ariane 5, then unfolds solar panels, antennas, a segmented mirror array, and a thermal sun shield the size of a tennis court on its way to an observing post nearly a million miles away.

ESA, Arianespace, and RUAG also modified the design of vents on the Ariane 5’s payload shroud in response to concerns that a depressurization event may harm the Webb observatory when the fairing jettisons after liftoff. Engineers were worried that residual air contained in Webb’s folded sun shield membranes might cause them to bubble or expand unexpectedly during fairing separation.

The vent alteration will ensure no air gets trapped between the sun shield membranes when the rocket ascends above the atmosphere. The Ariane 5 is considered the topmost dependable launch vehicle, with only one partial failure in its past 97 flights.

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