The James Webb Space Telescope in Greenbelt. Photo via NASA.

We have some bad news: Maryland’s time with NASA’s newest universe-probing telescope is almost up.

More positively (and less selfishly), we should celebrate that the Webb Telescope is one step closer to its planned 2018 launch. NASA announced today that the tennis-court sized observatory has passed the agency’s rigorous environmental tests that simulated a real-life rocket launch at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

The device will soon head to Johnson Space Center in Houston for subsequent “end-to-end optical testing in a vacuum at its extremely cold operating temperatures,” the agency said. That means they’ll put the telescope in a vacuum-like, cryogenic environment much like space to see how it holds up.

Today’s announcement sounded bittersweet for Bill Ochs, project manager for the Webb Telescope.

“It has taken a tremendous team of talented individuals to get to this point from all across NASA, our industry and international partners, and academia,” he said in a statement. “It is also a sad time as we say goodbye to the Webb Telescope at Goddard, but are excited to begin cryogenic testing at Johnson.”

The Webb Telescope is considered to be the heir to the throne occupied by the famous Hubble Space Telescope, which is still operational but not nearly as strong. The Webb Telescope is expected to broaden our understanding of space by detecting far-off galaxies and stars dating back to the moments that directly followed the Big Bang. Scientists have designed it do that using 18 gold-plated, highly sensitive mirrors designed to capture infrared light from deep space.

Scientists in Baltimore and Greenbelt have been heavily involved in its development, with Goddard Space Flight Center in charge of developing and testing its many instruments and Baltimore’s own Space Telescopic Science Institute, based at Hopkins, serving as the official Science and Operations Center.

NASA partnered with the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency on the project.

After many years of delays, the Webb Telescope is now sticking to its timeline to launch next year. NASA says that if and when it passes muster in Houston, it will travel to Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems in Redondo Beach, Calif., for final assembly and testing. Its planned 2018 launch site is in South America.

Ethan McLeod is a freelance reporter in Baltimore. He previously worked as an editor for the Baltimore Business Journal and Baltimore Fishbowl. His work has appeared in Bloomberg CityLab, Next City and...