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NASA, ESA delay James Webb Space Telescope launch until December

The Hubble successor will have to wait a little longer to taste space.

The James Webb Space Telescope during a test deployment of its primary mirror in March 2020.
Northrop Grumman

The launch of the next-generation James Webb Space Telescope, a marvel that will peer into the past and probe the origins of our universe, has been delayed once again, and nobody is likely to be surprised. The telescope had earlier been targeted for an Oct. 31 launch date, but the European Space Agency and NASA announced Tuesday that they're now aiming for Dec. 18.

James Webb is a joint project from NASA, ESA and the Canadian Space Agency. The space observatory has endured massive delays spanning years, so adding another handful of weeks before launch is pretty much business as usual for the ambitious project.

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The telescope will be launching on an Ariane 5 rocket from Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana. NASA said the telescope completed testing in California and was moving into the packing-up and shipping phase as of late August. The Webb team had previously opened up the observatory's golden mirrors for a final time on Earth in May.

"We are on track, the spaceport is busy preparing for the arrival of this extraordinary payload, and the Ariane 5 elements for this launch are coming together. We are fully committed, with all Webb partners, to the success of this once-in-a-generation mission," ESA Director of Space Transportation Daniel Neuenschwander said in a statement.

The telescope is incredibly complex. It must be folded up like origami for launch and will open itself back up once it's safely in space. Getting it to that point has been challenging. Earlier in the development of James Webb, NASA had hoped to launch it as early as 2007. 

James Webb will represent the next step in space telescopes at a time when the venerable Hubble Space Telescope is showing its age and battling serious technical glitches. It may be slow in getting to space, but the universe will wait.