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James Webb Space Telescope
L2 Orbit

During the feasibility studies (1995-96), NASA and the STScI considered a wide variety of orbits for JWST. The most promising was an orbit about the Sun-Earth second Lagrange point (L2), approximately 1.5 million km from Earth, outside the orbit of the Moon. The region about L2 is a gravitational saddle point, where spacecraft may remain at roughly constant distance from the Earth throughout the year by small station-keeping maneuvers.

illustration of the L2 point

Animation showing JWST in orbit

JWST will be placed in a large halo orbit in a plane tipped with respect to the ecliptic plane. The chosen orbit avoids the Earth and Moon’s shadows. The halo orbit period is about 6 months. Nominal station keeping maneuvers will be performed every 21 days.

JWST, near the L2 point, is in a benign and essentially unchanging environment. There are no significant gravitational torques and thermal influence from the Earth and Moon are greatly reduced. The main operational influence to consider is the torque created by sunlight on the sunshield.

L2 orbit/trajectory