James Webb Space Telescope gets all shook up – launch delayed again

Space agencies have been planning this thing since 1996, so what's four more days?


The European Space Agency has delayed the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope until December 22 so that it can undergo additional testing following an incident that sent unintended vibrations through the observatory.

The James Webb Space Telescope – an international collaboration between NASA, ESA and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) – was set to launch on 18 December from Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana.

However, as technicians were preparing to attach the telescope to the launch vehicle adapter, a "sudden, unplanned release of a clamp band" – a device that secures Webb to the launch vehicle adapter – caused a vibration throughout the observatory.

"A NASA-led anomaly review board was immediately convened to investigate and instituted additional testing to determine with certainty the incident did not damage any components," according to an ESA statement that indicated testing will end later this week, with results to follow.

The James Webb Space Telescope is a next-gen space telescope that is more sensitive and has superior infrared resolution compared to its predecessors. It's also designed to sit at a point much further from the Earth than Hubble – 1,500,000km (930,000 miles) beyond Earth's orbit compared to Hubble's orbit a mere 550km (340 miles) above Earth's surface. The $10 billion telescope is designed to probe light sources in space mostly across infrared wavelengths – such as young stars and planets hidden by dust.

Development of the telescope began in 1996, originally with a launch date of 2007. Obviously that didn't happen. The mission kept growing in scope, experiencing numerous delays and budget increases. A major redesign was conducted from 2005 and another delay came along in 2018 when the sat's sunshield ripped during a practice deployment. Then there was the pandemic, then problems with the Ariane 5 slated to lift the 'scope into orbit.

The space boffins desperately want this baby in space – especially since Hubble is showing its age with repeated unplanned entries to safe mode.

Who can blame Hubble? It's tired. It's lonely. Let's get the James Webb Space Telescope up and enjoy the view. ®

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