An issue with the fairing release on the last two Ariane 5 launches has not only paused use of that rocket since August 2020, it might cause another delay in the planned October 31, 2021 launch of the James Webb Space Telescope.
In a statement to SpaceNews, Arianespace acknowledged that “post-flight analyses conducted on two recent Ariane 5 launches have indicated the occurrence of a less than fully nominal separation of the fairing, however with no adverse impact on the Ariane 5 flights in question.”
The company did not elaborate on the problem, but industry sources familiar with the issue said that, on both the August 2020 launch and the previous Ariane launch in February 2020, the separation of the faring induced vibrations into the payload stack well above acceptable limits. Neither incident damaged any of the payloads, but raised concerns about the effect on future missions, including JWST.
Moreover, Arianespace has two Ariane 5 launches on its schedule that are supposed to launch before Webb. If those are delayed it puts a further squeeze on the Webb launch date.
Meanwhile, the final checkouts of the Webb telescope have been proceeding, including a successful test of the unfolding of the telescope’s segmented mirror.
After a more than decade of delays and budget overruns — raising this telescope’s budget from 1/2 billion to $10 billion — it appears that Webb’s final schedule delay might occur not because of the telescope but because of the rocket.
In addition, the issue at Arianespace appears to be seriously impacting that company’s ’21 launch schedule, having failed to launch any Ariane 5 rockets so far this year.
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