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 passed 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 it is that since 2018, piracy in Venezuelan waters has only grown . That same year, the attacks grew by 167% over 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.

Well, right there, is where the James Webb had to pass on the way to the Guyana space center.

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

But why? I mean, it is 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 fly it as has been done on other occasions? ?[392]::

Indeed, Kourou has an airport. However, between the airport and the port area there are up to seven bridges that could not support 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, border Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname and, finally, French Guiana. It is on that trip that a team of pirates could have captured the telescope and demanded a ransom.

Faced with that, the decision was to secretly strain it. All details of the transportation - his departure from California, the exact route, possible stopovers and his arrival in Kourou - were kept secret . On September 26, 2021, the MN Colibri loaded the telescope as if it were another load and started the trip. The Colibri is a cargo ship without any connection to any of the space agency and, in fact, as I write these lines, it is crossing the Strait of Gibraltar after unloading in Italy. On October 5 it entered the Panama Canal and, finally, on October 12 it arrived at the port of Paracaibo.

NASA officially announced that the ship had loaded the telescope on October 21, when the telescope was already in Guyana. In this way, they ended up diverting all the glances that would be pending the trip of the 10 billion dollars. This strategy of distraction (in an organization used to communicating everything in real time ) was key to the success of the mission.

And I say 'success' because (that we know of) the James Webb managed to reach his destination without incident in a timely manner. Of course, as Ignacio Crespo said , "we have missed a story of pirates hijacking a 10 billion dollar space telescope." Here's a ready uchrony for any VOD rig that wants a good story .