NASA has postponed the launch of its new James Webb space telescope due to an “incident” that affected its connection to the rocket.
The $ 10 billion (£ 7.5 billion) telescope is an orbital infrared observatory that will provide next-generation discoveries based on part of the Hubble Space Telescope.
But its launch from the Guyana Space Center in French Guiana – the European Space Agency’s operations base – has now been postponed to 22 December at the latest.
NASA said: “The incident occurred during operations at a satellite-based facility in Kourou, French Guiana, carried out under the general responsibility of Arianespace.
“Technicians were preparing to attach Webb to the launch vehicle adapter used to integrate the observatory with the upper stage of the Ariane 5 rocket.
“The sudden, unplanned release of the clamp that Webb attaches to the launch vehicle adapter has caused vibrations throughout the observatory,” the space agency added.
The Anomaly Review Committee, chaired by NASA, has since been investigating what happened, and further updating is expected when testing ends later this week.
According to NASA, it is following further delays and additional costs caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The goal is for the orbiting telescope to succeed the Hubble Space Telescope, which was launched in 1990 – and is expected to be in use by 2040 – and the Spitzer Space Telescope, which was launched in 2003.
Once the launch is completed, it will herald a new era in space science and offer NASA the opportunity to publish new images, such as those taken by Hubble, that have inspired the imagination of many people.
The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is designed to “study all phases of cosmic history: from the first bright flashes after the Big Bang, to the formation of galaxies, stars and planets to the evolution of our solar system.”
By examining infrared light, JWST will directly observe a portion of space and time (which by special relativity are not separate properties) that humanity has never been able to see before.
He will look deep into the past, back when the first stars formed more than 13.5 billion years ago – because he can see the then emitted light that was stretched or “red-shifted” due to the constant expansion of the universe.
JWST is the largest and most powerful space science telescope ever built by NASA, and after launch it will travel into orbit, about a million miles from Earth, before making six months of use in space.
During this period, its mirrors and sun visor will open, and its smaller systems will also need to be transferred online – they will need to be cooled, leveled and calibrated.
Once all this is done, astronomers around the world will be able to make scientific observations with a telescope and spread understanding of the universe of humanity.