Webb Telescope Not Damaged Following Recent Incident, NASA Says

Archival image from February 2021, showing a Northrop Grumman technician inspecting the folding and packing of the Webb Space Telescope’s sunshield.

A processing incident that caused the entire Webb Space Telescope to shake did not cause any perceptible damage to the observatory, a NASA-led investigation has concluded.

“Engineering teams have completed additional testing confirming NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope is ready for flight,” as NASA explained in a statement.

That’s a huge relief. This means launch preparations can continue as planned, with blast off now scheduled for Wednesday December 22 at 7:20 a.m. ET (4:30 a.m. PT). Launch of the next-gen space telescope was originally scheduled for December 18, but a scary mounting incident at a satellite preparation facility in Kourou, French Guiana, resulted in a four day delay. Private contractor Arianespace is managing the launch for NASA.

Conceptual image showing the Webb Space Telescope during launch.

Conceptual image showing the Webb Space Telescope during launch.
Image: ESA/D. Ducros

The incident happened while technicians were preparing to mount the telescope to the launch vehicle adapter—the physical structure that connects Webb to the Ariane 5 rocket’s upper stage. While this was happening, a “sudden, unplanned release of a clamp band—which secures Webb to the launch vehicle adapter—caused a vibration throughout the observatory,” according to NASA.

The event was troubling enough that NASA decided to convene an anomaly review board to determine if Webb incurred any damage as a result of the shaking. Engineering teams completed their tests on November 24, finding nothing wrong with the observatory. This allowed for a “consent to fuel session,” during which NASA gave its approval. The fuelling of the observatory is scheduled to begin on November 25, in a process that’s expected to take around 10 days.

The Webb Space Telescope is an international project involving NASA, ESA, and the Canadian Space Agency. As the most complex and powerful space telescope ever built, Webb will make unprecedented observations of the solar system, Milky Way, and the universe. The project has been marred by numerous delays and cost overruns, but it appears that Webb is finally on track to make its much-anticipated exit from Earth–at least until the next bad thing happens.

More: New Curiosity Image Reminds Us That Mars Is a Truly Beautiful Place.

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