James Webb Space Telescope ready for launch.

The BBC reports that, after overcoming plenty of obstacles, the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope is ready to get into orbit and start gazing at the universe in mid-December:

Webb will be sent to orbit on an Ariane rocket from French Guiana. Engineers there began assembling the vehicle’s various components over the weekend.

The Ariane’s 30m-tall main core stage was lifted into the vertical to allow its side boosters to be attached. The rocket’s upper-stage, which will drive the latter part of Webb’s ascent, will be bolted on in a few days.

JWST itself is likely to be placed atop the rocket a week before lift-off on 18 December.

Once off the ship, JWST received a detailed examination to confirm no damage had occurred in transit.

“We’ve checked everything over and I can report James Webb is in perfect condition,” said Nasa instrument systems engineer Begoña Vila.

In its cleanroom in Kourou, the telescope stands on its end. It’s been folded from its operational configuration to enable it to fit inside the nosecone of the Ariane. Even so, it towers over the technicians keeping watch.

They continue to maintain a rigorous cleaning campaign, ensuring the environment around Webb is spotless. Two filtration walls pull dust away from the telescope. The bunny-suited workforce are also constantly wiping down the floor and the surfaces of support equipment to further guarantee no contamination taints the gold-coated segments that make up Webb’s 6.5m-wide mirror.

Webb is an astonishing construction to see in the cleanroom.

It’s a blaze of gold and silver, the latter colour represents layers of insulation. The slight purple hue comes from a silicone treatment that enhances reflectivity.

But it’s the size that takes your breath away, and that’s just in the folded, launch configuration. When in orbit, deployments will extend the observatory to about the size of a tennis court.

JWST’s mirrors and state-of-the-art instruments have been tuned to see the glow from the very first stars to shine in the Universe, an event theorised to have occurred about 200 million years after the Big Bang (just over 13.5 billion years ago).

The telescope will also have the power to resolve the atmospheres of many of the new planets now being discovered beyond our Solar System, and to analyse their gases for the possible presence of biology.