NASA's James Webb Space Telescope has encountered another mechanical problem during the instrument's testing at the Northrop Grumman facility in Southern California.
In a presentation at the National Academies of Space Studies on May 3, Greg Robinson, the JWST program director, revealed that screws and washers that are part of the sunshield had fallen off from the spacecraft instrument.
James Webb Space Telescope Routine Test
The sunshield, which measures about the size of a tennis court, is designed to protect the space telescope from its own, as well as external light and heat.
Robinson explained that the fallen hardware parts provide support to the space telescope, but it does not relate to the instrument's optical function. The routine mechanical shock and acoustic vibration test assess the spacecraft element's ability of the telescope to withstand harsh environments in space.
"Right now we believe that all of this hardware - we're talking screws and washers here — come from the sunshield cover. We're looking at what this really means and what is the recovery plan," Robinson said.
This is not the first time that the James Webb Space Telescope experienced glitches prior to its launch. Previously, it suffered tears in the sunshield and leaks in the propulsion thruster valves among other technical setbacks. These events led NASA to push back its initial 2019 launch date.
Robinson said he believes the program is still on track for the 2020 launch date. He explained that the glitch is unlikely to have an effect on the timeline because their schedule includes margins to accommodate repairs.
NASA Says JWST Need More Time For Review
In a press release published in March, NASA said the James Webb Space Telescope needs more time to undergo final integration and tests to ensure its successful mission.
"Webb is the highest priority project for the agency's Science Mission Directorate, and the largest international space science project in U.S. history. All the observatory's flight hardware is now complete," said Robert Lightfoot Jr., the former acting NASA administrator.
"However, the issues brought to light with the spacecraft element are prompting us to take the necessary steps to refocus our efforts on the completion of this ambitious and complex observatory."
NASA is partnering with the European Space Agency to launch the Ariane 5 rocket, the space vehicle that will carry the James Webb Space Telescope into space.
The James Webb Space Telescope is a large infrared telescope with 6.5-meter primary mirror. It will serve as the premier observatory in space that will help astronomers study the universe. The instrument was named after James Webb, a former NASA administrator.