Space Rock Strike on Webb Telescope was just bad luck, NASA team says

An artist's illustration of the Webb telescope in space.

In late May, the Webb Space Telescope’s uneventful commissioning process was interrupted by an unusually large micrometeoroid strike on one of the $10 billion observatory’s mirrors. Now, a NASA-led analysis of the event indicates the impact was a statistical anomaly and the telescope will be less susceptible to damage from space rocks in the futuree.

Micrometeoroids are bits of fast-moving space debris. Most micrometeoroid impacts on spacecraft are too small to measure; according to an NASA releaseWebb averages one to two measurable strikes per month.

A Report July by the Space Telescope Science Institute found it that the May strike caused noticeable damage to the telescope’s C3 segment, one of Webb’s 18 hexagonal mirrors. Despite the impact, the team’s assessment was that Webb “should meet his optical performance requirements for many years to come.”

“Even after this event, our current optical performance is still twice as good as our requirements,” said Mike Menzel, Webb lead mission systems engineer at NASA, in an agency release.

In other words, the impact did not affect the telescope’s ability to do its job of observing some of the oldest light in the universe, to better understand the first stars and t.the evolution of galaxies. Webb even pointed his infrared eye at us approach solar systemto drill.

At that time, the Webb The team’s main concern was whether the May strike was representative of more hits until come or just bad luck. The new analysis, conducted by a group of NASA experts, the telescope’s mirror manufacturer and the Space Telescope Science Institute, points to the latter.

After the impact of MayNASA sent Webb away from the micrometeoroid avoidance zone for the mirrors of the little one space rocks. Some particles can whiz by 22,000 miles per hourmeaning they can pack a punch if they hit a sensitive part of the telescope.

“Micrometeoroids hitting the mirror head (moving opposite to the direction the telescope is moving) have twice the relative velocity and four times the kinetic energy, so avoiding this direction where possible will help extend the superb optical performance for decades. ,” said Lee Feinberg, Webb telescope optical element manager at NASA Goddard, in a desk release.

Webb will still be able to make sightings in the direction of the avoidance zone, but he will at another time of year, when Webb is at a different point in his orbit and thus less susceptible to damaging micrometeoroid attacks.

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