JWST Good to Go

 In Space

NASA announced this evening that the James Webb Space Telescope is cleared for fueling after an incident that sent unexpected vibrations through the $9 billion spacecraft. An anomaly investigation team concluded all is well.

The James Webb Space Telescope in its folded configuration for launch in the processing facility at Arianespace’s Guiana Space Centre, French Guiana. Photo credit: NASA

JWST is at the Guiana Space Centre in Kourou, French Guiana, getting ready for launch on an Arianespace Ariane 5 rocket. The European Space Agency, a partner in the program, is providing the launch at no cost to NASA.

Two days ago, NASA revealed that a clamp band unexpectedly released while the telescope was being attached to a launch vehicle adapter to integrate it with the Ariane 5 upper stage. The accident caused vibrations throughout the spacecraft. The incident occurred on November 9. NASA has not explained why it took so long to make it public even though it held press briefings in between.

Additional tests were needed to make sure it was not damaged.  JWST is headed to a point in space a million miles away, not Earth orbit, and is not designed to be serviced in any case. It must be shipshape when it lifts off.  After that it is on its own.

NASA said on Monday that the anomaly investigation team would report “when the testing is completed at the end of this week,” but apparently they got done early. Today, on Thanksgiving eve, the agency said the team concluded “no observatory elements were damaged” and gave the go-ahead for fueling the telescope’s maneuvering engines, a process that takes about 10 days.

Launch is currently scheduled for December 22, 2021 at 7:20 am ET, a slip of four days from the earlier plan.

JWST is years late and billions over budget, with a cost of $8.8 billion for development. If commissioning and 5 years of operations are included, the total is $9.663 billion. That does not include costs, like launch, borne by ESA and the Canadian Space Agency, another partner. It continues to win support year after year because of its scientific potential to reveal the early history of the universe.

Illustration of the James Webb Space Telescope fully deployed with its mirror, made of 18 gold petals, and scientific instruments attached to the sunshield that will protect the telescope from the Sun. JWST is an infrared telescope so the instruments must be maintained at very cold temperatures to do their jobs. Image credit: NASA

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