NASA has revealed that the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has suffered unexpected damage during environmental testing. Following the testing at a Northrop Grumman facility, engineers discovered that “screw and washers” had unexpectedly fallen off the spacecraft.
“Right now we believe that all of this hardware, we’re talking screws and washers here, come from the sunshield cover,” said the James Webb Space Telescope program director at NASA, Greg Robinson. “We’re looking at what this really means and what is the recovery plan.”
The issue arose when the spacecraft element of the JWST, designed by Northrop Grumman, was moved from an acoustics testing chamber in preparation for vibration testing. The spacecraft element of the telescope includes the bus and sunshield. The optics and instruments are not part of the spacecraft module.
NASA officials were hesitant to speculate how the problem will affect the development of JWST. “It’s not terrible news, but it’s not good news either,” said Robinson. He continued optimistically, “That’s why we do the testing,” he said. “We do it now, we find it now, we fix it and we launch a good spacecraft.”
The setback is just the latest in a long line of faults that have plagued the final stages of development of the $8.8 billion James Webb Space Telescope. Initially scheduled for a Spring 2019 launch, NASA officials announced in March that the launch date had been pushed to late 2020. The launch date will likely need to be revised once more following this latest setback.
Image Credit: NASA