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JWST undamaged from payload processing incident

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JWST in Kourou
The James Webb Space Telescope is now in a payload processing facility at the spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, and on schedule for a launch Dec. 18. Credit: NASA/Chris Gunn

WASHINGTON — Launch preparations for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope will resume after testing found no damage to the spacecraft from a payload processing incident earlier this month.

NASA announced late Nov. 24 that testing of JWST found no sign of damage to any of its components after a clamp band, which secures the spacecraft to its launch vehicle adapter, suddenly and unexpectedly released during payload processing work by Arianespace. The release of the clamp band imparted vibrations to the telescope that project officials worried could have damaged it.

NASA did not discuss the specific testing performed, or the components that were of concern, but said in the statement that an anomaly board concluded that no observatory components were damaged by the test. Fueling of JWST, the next major step in preparing the spacecraft for launch, is scheduled to begin Nov. 25 and take about 10 days.

The approval to move the spacecraft into fueling keeps the mission on track for a revised launch date of Dec. 22, four days later than previously planned. Liftoff of the Ariane 5 carrying JWST is scheduled for 7: 20 a.m. Eastern that day from Kourou, French Guiana.

The incident took place Nov. 9, but NASA did not disclose it until a Nov. 22 announcement that it was delaying the launch four days to conduct spacecraft testing. Agency officials did not mention it during a pair of Nov. 18 briefings about JWST’s science goals and instrumentation, saying at the time fueling was scheduled to begin in a few days to keep the mission on track for a Dec. 18 launch.

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