Science

Faulty cable responsible for the latest delay in the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope

Update for 6 p.m. ET: The Webb launch team has fixed the data cable connection issue that was responsible for delaying the launch until December 24, Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate administrator for science missions, announced at Twitter on Thursday afternoon (December 16). NASA is expected to provide another update on Friday (December 17), he added.

A faulty data cable between the James Webb space telescope and the launch pad equipment at the European spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, caused the latest delay in launching the large observatory, said representatives of the European Space Agency (ESA). ) and NASA in a briefing on Thursday (December 16). ).

ESA, which has about a 10% stake in the James Webb Space Telescope mission, is providing the rocket that will send the 6.5-metric-ton telescope into space. The Ariane 5 rocket, operated by the European company Arianespace since the mid-1990s, is one of the most reliable launchers available.

However, engineers who were preparing the large telescope for its next lift-off from Europa’s spaceport recently discovered that a cable that carried data between the telescope and a “launch table” was not working properly. That discovery delayed the December 22 launch to no earlier than December 24, with more information expected to be announced later on Thursday.

Related: NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has a giant glowing mirror made of gold hexagons. This is why.

“It is an interface problem in the electrical grid connecting the observatory and the ground support equipment,” said Daniel Neuenschwander, ESA’s director of space transportation, at the briefing. “It’s a cable located on the launch table, which is experiencing some intermittent data loss.”

Neuenschwander added that ESA and NASA teams are still investigating the problem and hope to release more information later on Thursday.

Webb, which was mounted on the rocket earlier this week, has yet to seal in the Ariane 5’s fairing, which will protect it during liftoff and early ascent through the atmosphere. The cable problem was discovered during a so-called “vitality test” that was intended to confirm the health of the spacecraft prior to its encapsulation in the rocket’s fairing, said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the science mission directorate at the NASA, at the briefing.

“With the interface problem, we fell behind with the vitality test,” Zurbuchen said. “The test takes several hours, and that was really on the critical path. We have a meeting tonight around 6pm ET where we will see if we have managed to do this vitality test and go ahead with the encapsulation.”

Zurbuchen added that the teams are not taking a chance on the $ 10 billion observatory, which took 30 years to design and build (and is already many years behind schedule and a few billion dollars over budget).

“This was always going to be a special pitch,” Zurbuchen said. “We have recently had four launches at NASA where we had multiple communication losses like this and we are going ahead with the launch. We were taking more risks. We are not taking any risks at all with Webb because this is risky enough already. Making absolutely sure that everything works. “

Follow Tereza Pultarova on Twitter @TerezaPultarova. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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