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In brief: NASA has given the James Webb Space Telescope a clean bill of health following an unexpected incident during launch preparations earlier this week. With any luck, this minor scare will pave the way for a smooth launch next month.
NASA on Monday said a “sudden, unexpected release of a clamp band” used to secure the telescope to a launch vehicle adapter caused a vibration that permeated the entire observatory. The space agency assembled a review board to fully investigate the matter, as even a small hiccup at this stage of the game could jeopardize the entire project. That’s even truer considering the telescope won’t be serviceable by humans once it reaches its destination in space more than 900,000 miles from Earth.
NASA in a follow-up said engineering teams have completed additional testing of the telescope, noting there was no damage sustained as a result of the clamp incident.
With permission to proceed, fueling operations started on November 25 and will take about 10 days to complete. Should everything else go according to plan, the JWST will launch on December 22 at approximately 7:20 a.m. Eastern from Kourou in French Guiana courtesy of an Arianespace Ariane 5 rocket.
Despite multiple delays and cost overruns, the project has seemingly reached the homestretch. Once in space, it should take roughly 30 days for the telescope to reach its target of the second Lagrange point, or L2. In the months that follow, Webb will run through a series of tests to calibrate its mirrors. The first science operations will begin roughly six months after launch.