In contrast to other proposed observatories, the JWST telescope is the last big NASA astrophysics mission of its generation to be built. The James Webb Space Telescope, previously known as Next Generation Space Telescope, is a space observatory under construction and scheduled to launch in October 2018. The JWST will offer unprecedented resolution and sensitivity from long-wavelength visible to the mid-infrared, and is a successor instrument to the Hubble Space Telescope and the Spitzer Space Telescope. The telescope features a segmented 6.5-meter diameter primary mirror and will be located near the Earth–Sun L2 point. A large sunshield will keep its mirror and four science instruments below 50 K. JWST’s capabilities will enable a broad range of investigations across the fields of astronomy and cosmology.
One particular goal involves observing some of the most distant objects in the Universe, beyond the reach of current ground and space based instruments. This includes the very first stars, the epoch of reionization, and the formation of the first galaxies. Another goal is understanding the formation of stars and planets. This will include imaging molecular clouds and star-forming clusters, studying the debris disks around stars, direct imaging of planets, and spectroscopic examination of planetary transits.
In gestation since 1996, the project represents an international collaboration of about 17 countries led by NASA, and with significant contributions from the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency. It is named after James E. Webb, the second administrator of NASA, who played an integral role in the Apollo program.