NASA's James Webb Telescope Delayed Again, This Time Over An 'Incident'

The James Webb Space Telescope's launch has been delayed yet again, but only for a few days this time around. The reason, according to NASA, is an 'incident' that happened while technicians were attaching the space telescope to its launch vehicle adapter. The space agency says additional testing is necessary before the telescope is ready for launch.

The incident

In a brief blog post on the matter today, NASA revealed that the incident occurred at the French Guiana satellite preparation facility. While attempting to attach the space telescope to the launch vehicle adapter, a clamp band released unexpectedly, sending a vibration through the telescope. The launch vehicle adapter, NASA explains, is used to attach the James Webb Space Telescope to the Ariane 5 rocket's upper stage, paving the way for launch.

Given the observatory's delicate, complex nature, NASA says that its anomaly review board is now working to help investigate the issue. The space agency has ordered extra testing of the space telescope in order to determine whether the vibration caused any component damage, which could potentially set back the launch even further. NASA promised to return with more updates on the matter in the future.

History of delays

Before this incident occurred, NASA had planned to launch the James Webb Space Telescope on December 18 using the Ariane 5 rocket from Arianespace. That date has been bumped to December 22 at the earliest so that testing can take place, ensuring nothing was damaged by the clamp failure. This is a disappointing development as the telescope launch timeline has already been delayed multiple times.

The JWST project has come a long way over the years, having once faced cancellation back in 2011 to become one of the most promising developments in space exploration. In 2018, the telescope's launch was pushed to May 2020 at the earliest due to additional testing that was required, as detailed in a timeline of the project's milestones on Wikipedia.

Only a few months later, the launch was then moved to March 2021. The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in yet another delay, however, putting the launch in October 2021. The next launch date bump to November 2021 was due to concerns about whether the Ariane 5 rocket would be ready in time, and soon after the launch was pushed to December 18, 2021.

This new development has, at this time, only potentially delayed the space telescope's launch by a few days. Whether the observatory will still manage to launch before the start of the new year is likely highly dependent on the results of the additional testing, however, and this may be the start of yet another long delay for the space telescope.