Report: The impact of a micrometeorite and James Webb was much worse than NASA expectations

Credit: NASA
Credit: NASA

Article by: Andacs Robert Eugen, on 09 June 2022, at 11:47 am Los Angeles time

Recently, the NASA space agency reported that an impact occurred between a micrometeorite and one of Webb's mirrors. But things have gone a little worse than NASA's expectations.

Micrometeorite impacts are inevitable for a spacecraft, and the James Webb Telescope will experience such incidents throughout its life.

In any case, the impact of the telescope with a micrometeorite between May 23 and 25 (2022) did not affect the mirror for future observations, nor did it affect the telescope very badly.

"We always knew that Webb would have to weather the space environment, which includes harsh ultraviolet light and charged particles from the Sun, cosmic rays from exotic sources in the galaxy, and occasional strikes by micrometeoroids within our solar system," said Paul Geithner, technical deputy project manager at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. "We designed and built Webb with performance margin - optical, thermal, electrical, mechanical - to ensure it can perform its ambitious science mission even after many years in space."

Of course, the impact, no matter how big or small, was not unpredictable.

NASA has taken into account that such impacts can occur with micro-meteorites, so the main mirror has been designed to withstand such impacts.

However, the impact was much stronger than NASA's expectations.

In addition, it was much stronger than the tests performed by the team of engineers on Earth in relation to the possible impacts.

But let's hope things don't get worse with the James Webb Telescope and that astronomers and scientists will be able to make great discoveries in the distant universe.

However, NASA engineers say the telescope can adjust its mirrors so that possible future micrometeorite impacts will not affect astronomical observations.

The team that controls Webb could also perform maneuvers to avoid impacts. However, if taken very suddenly, it can be risky for the telescope.

The maneuvers must be taken with maximum precision.

"With Webb's mirrors exposed to space, we expected that occasional micrometeoroid impacts would gracefully degrade telescope performance over time," said Lee Feinberg, Webb's optical telescope element manager at NASA Goddard. "Since launch, we have had four smaller measurable micrometeoroid strikes that were consistent with expectations and this one more recently that is larger than our degradation predictions assumed. We will use this flight data to update our analysis of performance over time and also develop operational approaches to assure we maximize the imaging performance of Webb to the best extent possible for many years to come."

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