After decades of delays and billions of dollars spent, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope is running into even more problems before launch – and this time it was down to simple human error.
This time, the technicians were confronted with an “incident” that took their breath away when mounting the structure on the launcher adapter of the Ariane 5 rocket.
“A sudden, unplanned loosening of a clamp band – which secures the Webb to the launch vehicle adapter – caused vibration throughout the observatory,” reads an update from NASA – the very last thing you want to hear when it comes to a structure that features an array of mirrors 6.4 meters in diameter.
The error pushed the massive space telescope’s launch to December 22 at the earliest, according to NASA, “to allow for further testing.”
It is not yet known if the orbiting observatory has been damaged, but NASA plans to provide an update on the situation by the end of the week.
The original plan was to launch the James Webb on December 18 aboard Arianespace’s Ariane 5 rocket from the Kourou launch site in French Guiana.
The telescope, which is expected to revolutionize our understanding of the early universe, has been in development for more than twenty years, with its construction and launch having been postponed countless times over the years. More recently, NASA blamed further delays on the COVID-19 pandemic.
This week’s incident couldn’t come at a worse time, with launch slated for less than a month.
All we can do now is hope that the massive structure has survived fully intact and that NASA can finally move on.
“I am confident that the team will do everything in their power to prepare the James Webb Telescope to explore our cosmic past,” tweeted Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA administrator for the Science Mission Directorate, on Monday.
“[The observatory] will unveil the universe in ways unimaginable,” he added. “This step is definitely worth the wait.”