James Webb Space Telescope recovering from second instrument failure

NASA’s powerful $10 billion space telescope is back in full swing.

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST or Webb) returned to full scientific activity on Monday (January 30), recovering from a failure that affected one of its instruments.

Webb’s team spent several days of testing and evaluation following the “communication delay” on January 1st. According to a statement made on Tuesday (January 31), 15 caused problems with the Near Infrared Imaging Telescope and Slitless Spectrograph (NIRISS) instrument. (will open in a new tab) from NASA.

“Observations affected by the NIRISS pause will be rescheduled,” the agency said in a brief statement, noting that the instrument was successfully restored on Friday (January 27).

Related: Best James Webb Space Telescope images of all time (Gallery)

NIRISS was provided by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), so NASA and CSA staff worked together to troubleshoot. The initial problem was “a communication delay in the instrument, causing its flight software to time out,” according to January. 24 statements (will open in a new tab) from NASA.

NIRISS can usually operate in four different modes. (will open in a new tab), according to NASA. The instrument can work as a camera when other JWST instruments are busy. Alternatively, NIRISS can look at the light signatures of the atmospheres of small exoplanets, take high-contrast images, or explore distant galaxies.

Before the NIRISS crash in August 2022, there was a problem with another Webb instrument: a lattice wheel inside the observatory’s mid-infrared instrument (MIRI). However, the wheel is only required for one of MIRI’s four observation modes, so the instrument continued to observe during recovery operations. Work to restore the affected regime, dubbed the “Mid-Resolution Spectrometer”, was completed in November.

In December, the JWST team also spent two weeks fixing a glitch that kept the telescope in safe mode, making scientific observations difficult. A software glitch in the observatory’s attitude control system was cited as a problem, affecting the direction the telescope is pointing. The observatory recovered from this problem relatively quickly, resuming full scientific activity on 20 December.

Elizabeth Howell is co-author of Why Am I Taller? (will open in a new tab)? (ECW Press, 2022; with Canadian astronaut Dave Williams), space medicine book. Follow her on Twitter @howellspace (will open in a new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (will open in a new tab) or facebook (will open in a new tab).

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