NASA has launched James Webb Space Telescope and it will experience one of the most stressful deployment processes any spacecraft has ever endorsed. But the telescope has to complete a final journey on Earth before it even gets on top of its ride to space. It will complete an almost 5,800-mile voyage at sea. However, Webb was shipped from California on 26th September ultimately passing through the Panama Canal to reach the Port de Pariacabo, located on the Kourou River in French Guiana, on the northeastern coast of South America on 12th October. Webb will now be driven to its launch site, Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. It will start 2-months of operational preparations before its scheduled launch on 18th December. Point to be noted that it is the largest and most powerful space telescope ever built as cargo.
Webb required a colossal, specially designed suitcase known as STTARS (Space Telescope Transporter for Air, Road, and Sea). STTARS weighs about 168,000 pounds. It is 18 feet high, 15 feet wide, 110 feet long, and about twice the length of a semi-trailer. This custom container was outfitted for any extreme or unexpected conditions Webb could have encountered during travel. Engineers carefully tested how to best protect the container from heavy rainfall and other environmental factors. Webb’s launch site operations manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, Charlie Diaz said that Webb’s arrival in Kourou was the culmination of years of preparation. The operation manager said, “There are just thousands of different things that go on behind the scenes: pulling permits, avoiding obstructions, selecting alternate routes, all kinds of nuances”.
Diaz added, “I’m so proud of our team we’ve been working at this now for a long time”. Webb’s ship voyage will ultimately be bookended by two short drives, one in California and one in French Guiana. The first took Webb from Northrop Grumman’s facilities in Redondo Beach, California, to its nearby port of departure at Naval Weapons Station Seal Beach. The second drive will bring Webb from the Port de Pariacabo to its launch site of Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou. STTARS traveled at a speed of only 5–10 miles per hour due to its sheer size and weight. However, STTARS has previously transported Webb components to other NASA or partner facilities primarily by air. The team chose to transport Webb by sea to Kourou due to the logistics of landing at the Cayenne Airport in French Guiana.