James Webb telescope gets hit by a larger-than-anticipated micrometeoroid

Shawn Knight

Posts: 14,454   +171
Staff member
What just happened? NASA's James Webb Space Telescope hasn't even conducted its first science mission but is already sustaining damage from the harsh environment of space. Between May 23 and May 25, one of the scope's primary mirror segments was hit by a sizable micrometeoroid. After assessing the damage, the space agency concluded that Webb is still performing above all mission requirements "despite a marginally detectable effect in the data."

Micrometeoroid strikes are a common occurrence in space, and NASA designed Webb's mirror to withstand impacts from dust-sized particles traveling at extremely high speeds. During the construction phase, engineers pelted mirror samples with small particles and conducted simulations to get a better understanding of how to best fortify the space-bound observatory.

Unfortunately, the micrometeoroid that recently tagged Webb was larger than what engineers modeled and could have tested here on Earth. It didn't come from a known meteor shower, either, meaning NASA didn't have the opportunity to maneuver the scope in advance to shield its optics. As such, the strike was classified as an unavoidable chance event.

"Since launch, we have had four smaller measurable micrometeoroid strikes that were consistent with expectations and this one more recently that is larger than our degradation predictions assumed," said Lee Feinberg, Webb optical telescope element manager at NASA Goddard.

The collision prompted operators to assemble a team of engineers to look for ways to mitigate the effects of further strikes of this scale.

NASA is still on track to share the first full-color images from the telescope on July 12.

Permalink to story.

 

VitalyT

Posts: 6,403   +7,198
Bummer! They say "space is empty" - my a$$.

And it hasn't even started the mission in full, so what to expect next...


 

dangh

Posts: 785   +1,325
I think that information on exposure such device to the space and all that dust is as well very valuable and will be used in future. Hopefully such hits wont be happening too often.
 

VitalyT

Posts: 6,403   +7,198
Confess Nasa: was it a sizable micrometeoroid or the cylindrical probe from Star Trek?

It was sizable, and somewhat cylindrical, a probe of sorts...

asteroid2.png
 
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Uncle Al

Posts: 9,313   +8,489
And without an operating space shuttle, installing a replacement part will be very difficult and expensive. So, if Elon Musk is such a brain-child, why hasen't he come up with a SpaceX Shuttle? Still waiting ........
 

BrotherMichigan

Posts: 13   +31
And without an operating space shuttle, installing a replacement part will be very difficult and expensive. So, if Elon Musk is such a brain-child, why hasen't he come up with a SpaceX Shuttle? Still waiting ........

JWST wouldn't have been serviceable with the shuttle, either...
 

Lew Zealand

Posts: 2,248   +2,799
TechSpot Elite
And without an operating space shuttle, installing a replacement part will be very difficult and expensive. So, if Elon Musk is such a brain-child, why hasen't he come up with a SpaceX Shuttle? Still waiting ........

Have a look online where the Hubble is located and where the Space Shuttle flew. They overlap.

Now have a look at where the JWST is located. Orders of magnitude farther away. Spoiler: they don't overlap.
 
The amount of power that will be required for space travel is still extremely far off. Some kind of magnetic shield that can handle these micro impacts will need to be around a ship for long distance travel.

Maybe fusion reactor might open the door for this but not sure if we'll see it in our lifetime.

Even the planned Mars missions will be incredibly high risk for the individuals that are crazy enough to take it on.
 

amghwk

Posts: 1,235   +1,184
I wish I can see some sort of video recording of how they brought it back to earth.

I also wonder why the tens of other satellites orbiting around are not hit by any of the space debris. We don't hear of satellite TV channels or communications or GPS being wiped out in a flash. Or did we? Can't remember.
 

Sir Alex Ice

Posts: 79   +48
In all the vastness of space, of all the places it could go through that pebble chose to hit the telescope. Seems legit.
 

Uncle Al

Posts: 9,313   +8,489
Have a look online where the Hubble is located and where the Space Shuttle flew. They overlap.

Now have a look at where the JWST is located. Orders of magnitude farther away. Spoiler: they don't overlap.

Obviously but the "old" shuttle would have to undergo further modifications. As to the size, let's not forget that those mirrors could be redesigned to split them into 3 or more pieces and assembled as one piece with the equally obvious re-engineering of the software to accommodate it all.

The most obvious point is, where is SpaceX in all of this?

We are constantly bombarded with Musks opinions and bragging but where it counts he is strangely absent. Not taking away from his accomplishments but frankly, the major accomplishments and designs are the work of others, not Musk. It was recently noted that his so called expertise at coding was strictly a myth and he has yet to produce or exhibit any of those products despite his bragging about them ....
 

mbk34

Posts: 388   +288
I guess it was too expensive to launch a sizeable shield for the JWST from Earth but, perhaps in future, we could manufacture heavy items like shields on the moon (or on a metallic asteroid) then add them to satellites launched from Earth. This would be far cheaper and give us a good excuse to be back on the Moon. Sadly we seem to be abandoning the Moon and aiming for Mars when really there's not much benefit in going there apart from just to say we did.
 

Lew Zealand

Posts: 2,248   +2,799
TechSpot Elite
Obviously but the "old" shuttle would have to undergo further modifications. As to the size, let's not forget that those mirrors could be redesigned to split them into 3 or more pieces and assembled as one piece with the equally obvious re-engineering of the software to accommodate it all.

The most obvious point is, where is SpaceX in all of this?

We are constantly bombarded with Musks opinions and bragging but where it counts he is strangely absent. Not taking away from his accomplishments but frankly, the major accomplishments and designs are the work of others, not Musk. It was recently noted that his so called expertise at coding was strictly a myth and he has yet to produce or exhibit any of those products despite his bragging about them ....

The old shuttle is a low Earth orbiter, a few hundred miles up. The other space telescopes before Webb and the space station are the same, low Earth orbiters, all to be serviced by the shuttle and Dragon and Soyuz.

Webb doesn't even orbit the Earth, instead orbiting the Sun at 1 million miles away, more than 1000 times as far. The shuttle/Dragon/Soyuz are useless for this, there are no modifications you can do to them to address this, wrong tools for the job.

And SpaceX also has nothing that can do this either as they are not designing for this type of flight plan and technical job. And if they did, where is the money to pay for it? To service something not designed to be serviced? Sure, it's possible, but has close to zero financial feasibility.