An 'incident' with a clamp band has delayed the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope, again. In a blog post, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) confirmed that following the incident, the launch readiness has been moved to no earlier than December 22.
Scheduled for a launch first in 2007, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has seen a series of delays and cost escalations. Designed to replace the aging Hubble, the JWST will provide us with new ways of peeking into the cosmos when deployed. However, to do that, its 21-foot-wide (6.5 m) mirror needs to be unpacked precisely when the telescope is about a million miles (1.5 million km) away from the Earth. So, NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Canadian Space Agency who have also contributed monetarily and technically to put the telescope together are doing everything to ensure that it works without any glitches.
Unfortunately, while the team was preparing to attach the telescope to the European Ariane 5 rocket at the Kourou satellite preparation facility in French Guiana that an incident occurred. According to NASA's press release, the telescope was being attached to the rocket's launch vehicle adapter that would secure the former to the upper stage of the rocket.
Clamp bands are used during such transfer to ensure that the payload is held firmly. However, one of the clamp bands was released suddenly in an unplanned manner which has sent "vibrations throughout the observatory," NASA wrote in the blog post.
With the telescope weighing over 14,000 pounds (6,500 kg), one can imagine what vibrations must have felt like in the facility. NASA has convened a team to investigate if the incident has caused any damage to the components. The team will carry out further testing of the spacecraft and provide an update by the end of this week.
The additional steps that need to be taken here will set the launch date back by a few days, with NASA expecting a launch by December 22. Ars Technica reported that an unnamed senior source at NASA had confirmed that the testing was progressing ahead of schedule and no major issues had been identified so far.
Hopefully, this is the last of the delays the magnificent space telescope needs to see on its way out.