With the Hubble Space Telescope quickly coming to the end of its long and illustrious career, a new non-terrestrial observatory will be necessary to continue deep-space research into the origins of the universe. Why hello there, James Webb Space Telescope.
During its ten year mission, the JWST (as it's more commonly known) is charged with finding the first galaxies from the early universe as well as with observing dust clouds as they form stars, planetary systems, galaxies. To accomplish that kind of far out reconnaissance, the JWST is packed with some super high-end equipment. A tennis-court sized sun-shield will fold out after launch, along with a 6.4 metre primary mirror made of ultra-lightweight beryllium optics (compared to the 2.4 metre mirror aboard the Hubble). Its three main imaging devices detect in the near- and mid-range infrared spectrum (great for seeing through enormous dust and gas clouds). The observatory will also include a Fine Guidance Sensor (FGS) and Tunable Filter module to stabilize the image and perform narrow-band imaging, respectively. These will allow the JWST to peer deeper and more clearly into the ether than the Hubble ever could. An on-board cryogenics module will be used to keep the detectors at a frosty 39 Kelvin and prevent the spacecraft's own heat from interfering with readings.
The JWST is a joint project between NASA, the ESA, and the CSA. It's slated to begin service in 2014 after launching aboard an Ariane 5 rocket from the ELA-3 complex in French Guiana.
Top art courtesy of NASA