Conceived 30 years ago as the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, the Webb is a joint project between NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).
The project has experienced numerous delays and cost overruns, ballooning from $500 million to almost $10 billion.
The telescope will fold to fit inside the rocket, and it will later unfold in space in a series of maneuvers in the first month after launch.
Webb features 18 hexagonal-shaped mirrors arranged in a honeycomb shape 6.5 meters across, giving a surface area 6.25 times larger than Hubble's spherical 2.4m diameter primary mirror.
A Kapton foil sun shield the size of a tennis court blocks light from the sun, moon, and Earth to keep the telescope extremely cool.
Webb will orbit the sun 1.5 million km from Earth at Lagrange point 2, where the gravitational pull from Earth and the sun balance out, allowing the observatory to remain stable.
While Hubble looks mostly in the visual and ultraviolet parts of the electromagnetic spectrum, Webb will look at longer wavelengths in the infrared to see what the universe looked like around 100 to 250 million years after the Big Bang, when the first stars and galaxies were formed.
Webb will also look much closer to home, studying nearby exoplanets and objects within our solar system, including Mars, the gas giants, and even some asteroids and comets.
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