Saturday, August 13

How to sneak a $ 10 billion satellite through the middle of a pirate-infested area: the ‘secret’ story of how the James Webb arrived in French Guiana

When the James Webb Telescope arrived at the Kourou Spaceport in French Guiana, we all breathed a sigh of relief. One of the most delicate stages of the project had just been overcome and not because of its technical complexity or anything like that: but because we had sneaked a $ 10 billion telescope through a pirate-infested area.

And is that Since 2018, piracy in Venezuelan waters has only grown. That same year, the attacks suffered a growth of 167% compared to the previous year and resulted in the death of 15 Guyanese fishermen off the coast of Suriname. So much so that Trinidad and Tobago created a special air unit to keep under control a situation that was beginning to get out of hand.

As well, right over there, that’s where the James Webb had to go on the way to the Guiana Space Center.

How do you get a $ 10 billion telescope into the rainforest?

But why? I mean, it’s clear that the James Webb was assembled at the Northrop Grumman facility in Redondo Beach in California and that some way had to be found to get it to Guyana, but Why not send it by plane as has been done on other occasions?

Indeed, Kourou has an airport. But nevertheless, between the airport and the port area there are up to seven bridges that could not bear the weight of the 6,500 kilos of the telescope (to which we would have to add the container and the truck to take them there). The air-ground route was impractical. It needed to be carried by sea.

The problem, as we have already pointed out, is that to go from California to Kourou the only viable option was to cross the Panama Canal and, later, bordering Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname and, finally, French Guiana. It is on that trip when a team of pirates could have captured the telescope and ask for a ransom.

Faced with that, the decision was to secretly strain it. All transportation details (your departure from California, the exact route, possible stopovers, and your arrival in Kourou) were kept secret. Successfully, too, because (to our knowledge) the James Webb managed to reach its destination without incident. Yes indeed, as Ignacio Crespo said, “We have missed a story of pirates hijacking a $ 10 billion space telescope.” Here’s a ready uchrony for any VOD rig that wants a good story.

Image | Daniel Tong

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