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Webb launch delayed four days because of “incident” during stacking

NASA management has decided to delay the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope for four days while engineers investigate whether an “incident” that occurred during the telescope’s stacking on top of an Ariane 5 rocket could have long term consequences.

Technicians were preparing to attach Webb to the launch vehicle adapter, which is used to integrate the observatory with the upper stage of the Ariane 5 rocket. A sudden, unplanned release of a clamp band – which 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. NASA and its mission partners will provide an update when the testing is completed at the end of this week.

The launch had been scheduled for December 18th. They have now pushed it back to December 22nd.

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From the press release: In this ground-breaking new history of early America, historian Robert Zimmerman not only exposes the lie behind The New York Times 1619 Project that falsely claims slavery is central to the history of the United States, he also provides profound lessons about the nature of human societies, lessons important for Americans today as well as for all future settlers on Mars and elsewhere in space.

 
Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.  
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11 comments

  • Skunk Bucket

    I have a very bad feeling about this. It scares me that so many astronomy eggs (and dollars) have been put into one very delicate basket. So many other worthy projects never happened because of Webb’s insatiable appetite for time and money. If this thing fails, it will be a catastrophe.

  • Falcon Heavy

    You’re gonna wish you had given me a call…

  • Sayomara

    Got to love bureaucrat speak..

    “A sudden, unplanned release of a clamp band.” strap broke and it fell down.

    “caused a vibration throughout the observatory.” it was shaken like a can of beer.

    I don’t know what happened about the complete unwillingness just explain things in plain English leads one to assume the worst.

    It feels like we need a quote about “Top men” around now…

  • wayne

    Raiders of the Lost Ark
    “Top Men!”
    https://youtu.be/ylJfYaYDCB8
    1:50

  • David M. Cook

    The thing can‘t possibly be that fragile! It‘s going up on a rocket, fer cryin‘ out loud! If this fails, NASA should be closed down for good, with no chance to waste more money!

  • Jeff Wright

    “Hey Nitwit! Where are the tools?”

    “What tools?”

    “The tools we been usin’ thirty years!”

    “Ohhh….those tools…nyuk”

  • John hare

    I thought slippage was part of the program.

  • Lee Stevenson

    I have to be unhappily honest…. I also have a very bad feeling about this telescope. I hope I am wrong, but it’s probably the most over engineered machine ever built. 300+ points of failure?

    The space shuttle was over engineered out of the park, and was lucky to not fail sooner. Both catastrophic failures could have happened on its first flight if weather or plain luck had been different.

    It’s what happens when engineers are given an unlimited budget.

    I hope I am wrong, but I give the thing at most a 50/50.

  • Edward

    David M. Cook wrote: “The thing can‘t possibly be that fragile!

    There are parts on spacecraft, such as the bearings* in the reaction wheels, that are sensitive to mechanical shock events, such as pyrotechnic devices that are used to release clamp bands and solar arrays. The report does not say what happened with the clamp band that gave a worse shock event than expected at release.

    I have worked on spacecraft instruments that NASA required shock testing on engineering models.** I worked at a company that found a way to release solar arrays and some other deployments without pyrotechnics. The company considered this a technical advantage over other satellite manufacturers.

    If this fails, NASA should be closed down for good, with no chance to waste more money!

    Attitudes like this are why NASA is so careful about whether accidents such as this have caused damage to the sensitive parts. What should be a small problem becomes an existential concern, thus NASA wastes more money just to make sure that there isn’t a failure and that it isn’t closed down for good.

    * My brother once worked at a company that started using roller conveyors to move their disc drive assemblies, only to discover that the conveyors were causing shock events in the drive bearings that resulted in an unacceptably high early failure rate. Goodbye roller conveyors, hello carts with inflated wheels.

    ** These shock tests used a piece of metal that was snapped apart in order to create in the instrument’s mounting plate the required vibration frequencies and levels in an instantaneous manner. I had expected something like tapping a hammer on the plate (similar to a modal vibration test), but apparently that was harder to control the vibration levels at the various frequency ranges.

  • Frank Solomon

    If something goes wrong with the Webb telescope after launch, NASA now has a way to explain it, on the shelf and ready for deployment like a solar array . . .

  • Localfluff

    What has been going wrong with JWST is not the gold plated beryllium mirror segments or the unique instruments developed by world leading scientists. It’s the “space bus” by Northrup Grumman. The simple standard things failed.

    The small rocket engines leaked, risking contaminating the mirror with their fuel. The “whiskers” (is that English? It’s nuts) fell off into the instruments and took months to pick up most delicately. The Sun shield tore itself apart. And now a clamp band. I do wish a merry Christmas, but I’m not confident that Santa Clause will go all the way up there on the very last Ariane 5 waiting there in the jungle.

    Perhaps it is a good sign that testing has already found so many things, now mended, that unexpectedly could go wrong?

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