The James Webb Space Telescope, the largest space observatory ever built, is being launched late October this year. It is named after James Edwin Webb, the second administrator of NASA, best known for heading the Apollo space programme that set the first human beings on the Moon. 

Space exploration is always an inspiring collaboration between different countries, and the JWST is no exception - involving the efforts of NASA, the ESA, and the Canadian Space Agency.

While its predecessor Hubble orbited close to Earth at about 550 km, the JWST shall be orbiting the Sun 1.5 million kms away. Where Hubble was primarily focused on the visible and UV wavelengths, the JWST will mainly study the Universe in infrared. Light from objects that are further away have a stretched wavelength, shifting them towards the red part of the spectrum. So, observations of very distant bodies, the very first galaxies of the universe, all require an infrared telescope.

Light takes time to travel across the universe. The light we capture today from distant galaxies is actually a flashback to what happened there billions and billions of years ago. The much larger light collecting mirror on the Webb will now enable it to observe objects from 13.6 billion years ago, capturing the after flow of the Big Bang.

Some other objectives of the Webb include: using gravitational lensing techniques to find evidence of dark matter; collecting data on the least understood planets in our Solar System, the ice giants Uranus and Neptune; and conducting studies on the existence of extraterrestrial life on distant exoplanets that are in the habitable zone for life forms. 

Although it is mainly solar-powered, the JWST still needs a small amount of finite fuel to maintain its orbit and instruments. It is therefore expected to stay operational for five years after its launch, but NASA is holding out hopes it will last more than twice as long.

For the telescope to fit into a rocket, it must fold up - quite like oragami. So, many parts of Webb are designed to deploy or unfold once in space. It's a concept that feels so elegant yet futuristic. As an aspiring engineer, witnessing the pinnacle of space exploration as it literally and figuratively unfolds, is incredibly fascinating and inspirational.