The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), named after the second NASA administrator who was the major driving force behind the Apollo moon missions, is scheduled to be launched on Halloween (31 October) 2021.
It is a joint effort lead by NASA with the ESA and the CSA with over 1,200 engineers, scientists and technicians from 14 countries and has a budget tag of over A$12 billion.
When launched, it will be the most powerful time machine ever built by humans and will detect light that has travelled the universe for more than 13 billion years.
It comprises a 18-segment primary mirror built out of beryllium which is lightweight and can withstand the extreme cold temperature of -226C, temperatures that it will experience at its L2 orbit, 1.5 million km away (four times further away than the moon) where the gravity of the earth will balance that of the sun.
The effective 6.5m diameter primary mirror is fully coated with a 100nm gold layer (1000 times thinner than a strand of human hair) to optimise reflections in the near and mid infra-red wavelengths.
This wavelength regime will be utilised by astronomers through the four onboard instruments of this powerful observatory (100 times more powerful than the Hubble Space Telescope) to study planets of our own solar system to the first generation of galaxies formed in the universe almost 14 billion years ago.
JWST with its unprecedented sensitivity in the IR will observe the very first galaxies and stars formed in the universe to show us how these systems were formed and how they evolved with cosmic time to form the majestic grand spirals and elliptical galaxies that we see in the vicinity of our own Milky Way.
JWST observing in IR will also act like a night vision goggle to cut through the massive clouds of dust in the local universe to show us how stars and planets like our very own are being formed at this very moment.
Will those planets end up having life? JWST will use its state-of-the-art spectrographs to study the atmospheres of planets to detect signs of life, if any.