In French Guiana, preparations for the takeoff of the James Webb Space Telescope did not go as planned. In a statement released Monday, November 22, NASA explained that following an “incident”, the launch into orbit was postponed to December 22, instead of 18.
“Technicians were preparing to attach Webb” to the adapter “used to insert the observatory into the upper stage of the Ariane 5 rocket,” writes the US space agency. It was then that a “hose clamp” suddenly “unexpectedly released, causing a vibration through the observatory.”
UPDATE: @NASAWebb is now targeted to launch no earlier than Dec. 22 to allow additional testing after a sudden, unplanned release of a clamp that secures the spacecraft to its rocket adapter sent vibrations throughout the observatory: https://t.co/YCHnFLbRIr pic.twitter.com/NX5spmt26C
– NASA (@NASA) November 22, 2021
Take-off preparations are being made in Kourou, under the responsibility of Arianespace. The telescope, which reached French Guiana after a 16-day sea voyage from California, is handled there with the greatest care. Also, NASA prefers to carry out additional tests, in order to ensure “with certainty that the incident did not damage any of the components”. The findings of these audits will be made public “at the end of the week.”
These precautions are necessary because James Webb is an ultra-complex and therefore fragile engineering gem. Its very large mirror is for example made up of 18 smaller hexagonal mirrors, which will have to be unfolded in orbit during a perilous operation, and perfectly aligned to carry out their observations.
A new lookout for the cosmos
This telescope is eagerly awaited by astronomers and astrophysicists around the world. It is presented as the successor to Hubble, launched in 1990, and is to be placed in orbit around the Sun, 1.5 million kilometers from Earth. Well beyond the limits of its big brother, therefore, since Hubble operates at an altitude of 600 km.
Built in the United States under the direction of NASA, James Webb nevertheless incorporates instruments from the European (ESA) and Canadian (CSA) space agencies. They should allow him to explore all the phases of the cosmos with a precision still unmatched, until the first ages of the Universe and the formation of the first galaxies.