NASA resumes James Webb launch preps after incident review

A file photo shows the James Webb Space Telescope with its segmented primary mirror, secondary mirror assembly and sunshade folded up in launch configuration. Image: NASA

After a detailed inspection, a NASA-led “anomaly team” concluded the James Webb Space Telescope was not damaged during a ground processing incident at Arianespace’s Kourou, French Guiana, launch site. Engineers have resumed pre-flight preparations, targeting launch atop an Ariane 5 rocket on 22 December, four days later than had been planned.

The observatory had been scheduled for launch on 18 December, but processing was halted 9 November after a high-tension “clamp band,” used to secure the observatory to an adapter needed to attach it to the Ariane 5’s upper stage, suddenly released, unexpectedly shaking the observatory.

NASA kicked off an incident review to determine if any of the observatory’s mechanisms or sub-systems might have been damaged or shaken out of the precise alignment needed for deployments of its segmented primary mirror, sunshade and other critical systems once in space.

On Wednesday, NASA announced the results of the review on its web site, saying “engineering teams have completed additional testing confirming NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope is ready for flight. Preparations are resuming toward Webb’s target launch date of Wednesday, Dec. 22, at 7:20 a.m. EST.”

With the review complete, NASA gave engineers permission to press ahead with fuelling the observatory with toxic hydrazine propellant, a process that will take about 10 days to complete. Rollout to the launch pad in French Guiana is expected around 20 December.