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A brief update on the estimated launch date of the $10 billion James Webb Space Telescope came out Monday from NASA, and it wasn’t exactly a heartwarming message.

The large, space-based telescope’s “not already” launch date will be shifted from December 18 to at least December 22 after an “incident” occurred during processing operations at the launch site in Kourou, French Guiana. From here the telescope will launch on an Ariane 5 rocket provided by the European Space Agency.

“Technicians were preparing to attach Webb to the launch vehicle adapter, which is used to integrate the observatory with the upper stage of the Ariane 5 rocket,” NASA said. said in a blog post, “The sudden, unplanned release of a clamp band – which secures Webb to the launch vehicle adapter – causes vibrations throughout the observatory.”

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Let’s be honest, words like “event,” “sudden,” and “vibrate” are not one you want to hear about the operation of a delicate and virtually irreparable instrument like the Webb telescope. However, NASA, the European Space Agency and the rocket’s operator Arianespace have plans to move forward.

NASA is leading an anomaly review board to investigate and conduct additional tests to determine conclusively that the event did not damage any part of the telescope. NASA said it would provide an update on the completion of the test later this week. A senior source in the space agency said the test is currently running ahead of schedule and if some serious issue is not identified, the December 22 launch date should remain.

Any setback in Webb’s progress toward launch now feels particularly painful because it’s been such a long, long road to get to this point. NASA’s follow-on instrument to the wildly successful Hubble Space Telescope was originally scheduled to launch nearly a decade ago, with a development cost of $1 billion. Since then, technical problems and delays have plagued the complex telescope.

Webb’s formation has been difficult because its 6.5-meter mirror has to open itself after reaching an orbit of about 1.5 million kilometers from Earth. This is an extremely complex process, and the observatory has more than 300 single points of failure. NASA has had a hard time testing all those conditions on Earth that mimic the temperature, pressure and microgravity of deep space.

NASA science chief Thomas Zurbuchen said Monday that it is important for NASA to make sure the telescope is in good health before launch. “I am confident that the team will do everything they can to prepare Webb to explore our cosmic past,” he wrote. on twitter, “Certainly, this move is worth the wait.”



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