NASA nudges James Webb telescope launch date after vibration incident

The James Webb Space Telescope during a test deployment of its primary mirror in March 2020.

Northrop Grumman

The James Webb Space Telescope is a very big, very overdue and very sensitive project. After years of delays, it was supposed to launch on Dec. 18 and become the newest flagship observatory. The launch has now been moved to no earlier than Dec. 22 after an incident during launch preparations.

The telescope is in the process of getting together with the Ariane 5 rocket that will escort it into space. “A sudden, unplanned release of a clamp band — which secures Webb to the launch vehicle adapter — caused a vibration throughout the observatory,” NASA said in a statement Monday.

A joint project from NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency, the telescope is at its launch site at Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana. The telescope already survived a long journey by road and sea from California. 

“A NASA-led anomaly review board was immediately convened to investigate and instituted additional testing to determine with certainty the incident did not damage any components,” said NASA. 

The James Webb telescope is designed to be the next generation of space telescope, able to peer back into the earliest universe. NASA hopes it and the aging Hubble Space Telescope will operate at the same time, but first the James Webb Space Telescope needs to launch safely and make it through a complicated and lengthy deployment process. 

NASA expects to deliver an update on the telescope’s condition at the end of the week.   

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