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NASA offers important update on health of James Webb Space Telescope

NASA has delivered good news on the health of the James Webb Space Telescope following a recent incident that could have caused a serious delay to its launch schedule.

The most powerful space telescope ever built suffered a scare earlier this month when a clamp band — used to secure Webb to the launch vehicle adapter — suddenly released as the spacecraft was being attached to the upper stage of the Ariane 5 rocket at the launch site in French Guiana.

The unexpected event caused a vibration to pass through the observatory that engineers feared could have damaged some of its components.

Following thorough checks, NASA reported on Wednesday that the observatory and spacecraft are in good shape, allowing it to stick with the most recently announced launch date of December 22.

“A NASA-led anomaly review board concluded no observatory components were damaged in the incident,” the space agency said in a post on its website. “A ‘consent to fuel’ review was held, and NASA gave approval to begin fueling the observatory. Fueling operations will begin Thursday, November 25, and will take about 10 days.”

The James Webb Space Telescope is the result of an international collaboration between NASA and the European and Canadian space agencies.

Once deployed, it will set about exploring deep space in the hope of learning more about our solar system and beyond.

“Webb will reveal new and unexpected discoveries, and help humanity understand the origins of the universe and our place in it,” NASA said.

The telescope is the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, which has been exploring the universe since 1990 and beaming back some incredible imagery.

There are a number of key differences between the two observatories. As per NASA: “Webb will primarily look at the universe in the infrared, while Hubble studies it primarily at optical and ultraviolet wavelengths (though it has some infrared capability). Webb also has a much bigger mirror than Hubble. This larger light-collecting area means that Webb can peer farther back into time than Hubble is capable of doing. Hubble is in a very close orbit around the earth, while Webb will be 932,000 miles (1.5 million km) away.”

The video below offers a size comparison of Webb and Hubble’s mirrors. Also check out the enormous sunshield located below Webb’s mirror, said to be the size of a tennis court.

Primary Mirror Size Comparison Between Webb and Hubble

The Webb observatory in its open state is too large to fit into a rocket’s nose cone. The solution was to build a foldable design that will unfurl once it’s in space.

With NASA having delivered good news about the James Webb Space Telescope, we can now look forward to the launch happening in just a few weeks from now. Check back nearer the time for full details on how to watch a livestream of the lift-off.

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Trevor Mogg
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