Mon. Dec 6th, 2021

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

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

That’s a huge relief. This means that the launch preparations can continue as planned, with the launch now scheduled for Wednesday 22 December at 7:20 ET (4:30 am PT). The launch of the next-generation space telescope was originally scheduled for December 18, but a frightening incident at a satellite preparation facility in Kourou, French Guiana, resulted in a four-day delay. Private contractor Arianespace manages the launch for NASA.

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

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

The event was worrying enough that NASA decided to convene an anomaly review to determine if Webb sustained any damage as a result of the quake. Engineering teams completed their test on November 24 and found nothing wrong with the observatory. This allowed for a “consent to fuel session” in which NASA gave its approval. The refueling of the observatory is scheduled to begin on November 25 in a process that is expected to take about 10 days.

The Web 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, the Milky Way, and the universe. The project has been plagued by several delays and cost overruns, but it looks like Webb is finally on his way to making his long-awaited exit from Earth – at least until the next bad thing happens.

More: New curiosity picture reminds us that Mars is a really beautiful place.

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