Every spacecraft malfunctions from time to time, and even the most powerful space telescope ever launched is not immune.
The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST or Webb) was launched in December 2021 and has been making scientific observations since July 2022, stunning the world with its magnificent images and groundbreaking data. Goal Jan. On Jan. 15, the JWST Near Infrared Imaging and Slitless Spectrograph Instrument (NIRISS) “experienced a communication delay within the instrument, causing its flight software to time out,” according to a January report. 24 statements (will open in a new tab) from NASA. The statement notes that NIRISS cannot be used for scientific purposes at this time.
“There are no signs of any danger to the equipment, and the observatory and other instruments are in good health,” NASA officials wrote. “Affected scientific observations will be rescheduled.”
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The statement notes that NIRISS is a contribution from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), so NASA and CSA staff are working together to fix the problem.
Under normal conditions, NIRISS can operate in four different modes. (will open in a new tab), according to NASA. It can act as a camera when other JWST instruments are busy, it can analyze light signatures to study the atmospheres of small exoplanets, it can take high-contrast images, and it has a mode adapted to search for distant galaxies.
NIRISS is not the first JWST tool to run into problems. In August, a lattice wheel inside the observatory’s mid-infrared instrument (MIRI) began to show signs of friction. The wheel is only used in one of the instrument’s four observation modes, so the staff suspended these observations while continuing to operate MIRI in the other three modes.
By November, engineers had figured out the cause of the problem and began developing recommendations for the safe use of a vulnerable mode called the Medium Resolution Spectrometer.
In addition, the observatory suffered a two-week failure in December that repeatedly put the telescope into safe mode, interrupting scientific observations. Engineers attributed the problem to a software glitch in the observatory’s attitude control system, which controls the direction the spacecraft is pointing.
According to a NASA statement at the time, the observatory returned to normal operations after the problem on December 20.
The NIRISS announcement came exactly one year after JWST arrived at its outpost, the Earth-Sun 2 Lagrange point, which is located almost 1 million miles (1.5 million kilometers) from Earth on the side opposite the Sun.
Email Meghan Bartels at mbartels@ or follow her on Twitter @meghanbartels. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.