NASA Keeps Its Cool As A Micrometeoroid Slams Into Its $10 Billion Space Telescope

jwst space
Micrometeoroids have impacted the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), but NASA says not to worry. The space agency reported that between May 23 and 25, the space telescope suffered an impact to one of its primary mirror segments.

The highly anticipated space telescope has been undergoing a six month journey of preparation before it begins it primary duty of gathering data. JWST is getting closer to becoming fully operational and is expected to start sending back its first full-color images by July 12, 2022. Part of its historic journey, however, will be enduring impacts from micrometeoroids.

NASA reported on June 8 that Webb suffered impacts by micrometeoroids, but those types of strikes were to be expected. However, the power of the strike that occurred in late May, the fifth recorded since its launch, was more powerful than operators had anticipated. It will require engineers to adjust the instrument to compensate for the unexpected damage.

"After initial assessments, the team found the telescope is still performing at a level that exceeds all mission requirements despite a marginally detectable effect in the data. Thorough analysis and measurements are ongoing," NASA reported in a recent blog.

One of the challenges the teams at NASA will face is what they will do if something more severe happens to Webb. The telescope is currently orbiting a great distance from Earth, approximately 1 million miles (1.6 million km) from our planet.

webb telescope
Image Credit: NASA

Engineers designed the space telescope to be incredibly durable. It underwent a battery of testing to mimic the conditions it will experience in the vast depths of space. NASA says Webb is capable of taking a lifetime of damage and remain operational.

"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," stated Paul Geither, technical deputy project manager at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. He added, "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."

The fact strikes of this nature were expected, ground-based controllers are able to somewhat compensate for the damage. "Engineers have already performed a first such adjustment for the recently affected segment C3, and additional planned mirror adjustments will continue to fine tune this correction," NASA remarked in its blog post. The agency added that the steps would be repeated when needed in the future as part of the monitoring and maintenance of the space telescope throughout its mission.

Top Image Credit: NASA