NASA’s billion-dollar James Webb telescope is hit by a micrometeoroid

James Webb Space Telescope in space

The recent impact was greater than engineers anticipated, exceeding what the team could have tested on site (Image: Shutterstock)

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope was recently struck by a micrometeoroid, damaging one of its mirrors.

Between May 23 and 25, the £7.4 billion space telescope suffered an impact on one of its 18 primary mirror segments, Nasa said in a statement.

After initial evaluations, the team found that the telescope was still working well, with only a “marginally detectable effect in the data.”

“Impacts from micrometeoroids are an unavoidable aspect of the operation of spacecraft, which routinely experience many impacts over the course of long and productive scientific missions in space,” Nasa said.

Similar effects are expected to occur throughout Webb’s lifetime in space, and engineers built the telescope with these factors in mind.

(FILES) In this file photo taken August 30, 2007, this NASA artist's rendering shows the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), a large infrared telescope with a 6.5-meter primary mirror. - Almost a month after launch, the James Webb Space Telescope has reached its orbital destination about a million miles (1.5 million kilometers) from our planet, NASA announced on Jan. 24, 2022. At around 2:00 p.m. Eastern Time (1900 GMT), the observatory fired its thrusters to reach what is known as the second Lagrange point, or L2, where a spacecraft requires minimal fuel to maintain its orbit. (Photo by Handout/NASA/AFP) (Photo by HANDOUT/NASA/AFP via Getty Images)

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope was recently hit by a micrometeoroid, damaging one of its mirrors (Image: AFP)

Webb’s mirror was designed to withstand the bombardment of dust-sized particles flying at extreme speeds in its orbit around Sun-Earth L2 from the micrometeoroid environment.

Even as the telescope was being built, engineers used a mix of simulations and actual test impacts on mirror samples to get a clearer idea of ​​how to mount the observatory for on-orbit operations.

The recent impact was greater than engineers anticipated and far beyond what the team could have tested on site.

“We have always known that Webb must survive the space environment, which includes hard ultraviolet light and charged particles from the Sun, cosmic rays from exotic sources in the galaxy, and occasional impacts from micrometeoroids in our solar system,” said Paul Geithner, technical deputy project manager at the NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

“We designed and built Webb with performance headroom – optical, thermal, electrical, mechanical – to ensure that it can continue to fulfill its ambitious scientific mission even after many years in space.”

Nasa Webb Telescope

Between May 23-25, the £7.4 billion space telescope suffered an impact on one of its 18 primary mirror segments (Image: Nasa)

Webb also has the ability to recognize and adjust his mirror positions to account for impact. By adjusting the position of the affected segment, engineers can cancel out some of the distortion, minimizing the effects of shock.

To protect Webb in orbit, flight teams can also employ protective maneuvers that ward off the optics of known meteor showers before they occur.

Since launch, the telescope has encountered four smaller micrometeorite impacts. This recent impact was not the result of a meteor shower and is currently considered an unavoidable chance event.

As a result of these impacts, a specialized team of engineers was formed to explore ways to mitigate the effects of further micrometeoroid impacts of this magnitude.

Over time, the team will collect invaluable data and work with micrometeorite forecasting experts to better predict how performance might change.

“Because the Webb mirrors were exposed to space, we expected that occasional micrometeoroid impacts would elegantly degrade telescope performance over time,” said Lee Feinberg, element manager for Webb optical telescopes at Nasa Goddard.

This latest impact has resulted in no change in Webb’s operational schedule as the team prepares for the release of Webb’s first images on July 12.

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https://metro.co.uk/2022/06/09/nasas-billion-dollar-james-webb-telescope-struck-by-micrometeoroid-16798288/ NASA's billion-dollar James Webb telescope is hit by a micrometeoroid

Justin Scacco

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