NASA has reported that the impact of a meteorite on the James Webb Space Telescope has caused “significant and irreparable” damage to one of the panels it uses to observe deep space.
The orbiting observatory was launched last December and recently launched a complete set of new observationsincluding what is said to be the “deepest” and most detailed image of the cosmos to date.
Like any spacecraft, it has encountered micrometeoroids and its sensors have detected six deformations in the telescope’s main mirror panels that have been attributed to impacts.
“Each micrometeoroid caused a degradation in the wavefront of the impacted mirror segment, as measured during regular wavefront detection,” he said. POT.
Some of these degradations can be corrected by adjusting the math that NASA applies to the data that each panel collects, according to a commissioning paper published last week.
However, one impact, which occurred between May 22 and 24, was caused by a larger micrometeoroid and resulted in a “significant uncorrectable change” in segment C3 according to the document.
Fortunately, this change doesn’t have a particular impact on the operation of the telescope as a whole, and NASA has said that its performance continues to exceed expectations, but fundamentally reduces the accuracy of the data collected.
However, the attack has caused some concern about the impact that future attacks from these larger micrometeoroids could have.
“It is not yet clear whether the May 2022 impact on the C3 segment was a rare event,” the document says.
There could be a chance that it was “an unfortunate early strike from a high kinetic energy micrometeoroid that could statistically occur only once in several years,” the NASA team said.
But potentially “the telescope may be more susceptible to micrometeoroid damage than pre-launch models predicted.”
“The project team is conducting additional research on the population of micrometeorites [and] how impacts affect beryllium mirrors,” he added.
Another potential method of mitigating impacts could involve minimizing the amount of time JWST spent “looking in the direction of orbital motion, which statistically has higher micrometeoroid rates and energies.”
An increasing amount of orbital debris has regularly forced International Space Station controllers to perform “avoidance maneuvers” to prevent it from being hit.
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NASA currently tracks more than 27,000 pieces of space junk, though it says there is much more debris, too small to track but big enough to threaten human spaceflight and robotic missions.
NASA said: “There are half a million pieces of debris the size of a marble or larger (up to 0.4 inches or 1 cm), and about 100 million pieces of debris about 0.04 inches (or 1 mm) and bigger.”
“There’s even more micrometer-sized debris (0.000039 of an inch in diameter),” he added, and all of it can pose a risk.
“Even small flecks of paint can damage a spacecraft” when traveling at speeds of up to 17,500 mph, NASA said, fast enough to go from London to New York in 12 minutes.
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