November 24, 2020

The Progress of JWST awaiting the October 2021 Launch is great

2 min read

In July, NASA delayed the launch of the JWST program and scheduled it for October 2021. According to the agent’s officials, one of the significant contributors to the delay was the global pandemic, coronavirus. Consequently, it became hard to keep up with the schedule of developing the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). Its design is taking place in Southern California’s Northrop Grumman facility.

However, ever since the extension, JWST is now on the right track. Nevertheless, due to some technicalities, there are high chances that will eat into the schedule reserve. NASA held a meeting of its Astrophysics Advisory Committee on October 19. During that meeting, JWST program scientist Eric Smith commented on the mission. He said that the progress is good.

Before the meeting, early this month, NASA collaborated with Northrop to conclude JSWT’s environmental tests. Its spacecraft was subjected to conditions similar to those it will experience during the actual launch. They included acoustic coupled with vibration.

The next plan is to subject it to the deployment tests that will be final. One of the focus of this last phase will be testing fundamental telescope structures. A good example is the sun-shield. The tests will continue up to the end of the Spring of the next year. Once that is over, what will follow is its shipment to French Guiana’s launch site.

The funded schedule reserve is around 75 days.  So far, they have used some of them, which happened during environmental testing. Interestingly, they didn’t use all the schedule reserves set aside for the phase, which gives them more time to do other things.

One of the technical issues is the effect of the payload liftoff by Ariane 5 launch day on the folded sun shield’s residual air. There are high chances that it could overstress it. However, the team is looking for remedies, including changing air vents used during the fairing. It is only logical to do so since the sun shield’s rated capability as far as the residual air pressure is about half of the actual pressure during launching. Such a situation is bad news, no doubt.

By December, the team plans to have fixed JWST so that it can stand higher residue pressures. The options that NASA and Northrop Grumman have are to do something about it, such as enforcing some parts of the sunshield so that higher pressure will not be an issue during launching.

In reference to a different program, Northrop has also identified yet another issue. It is about the torque that was applied during the installation of some fasteners. 160 out of 12,300 fasters need a redo since the torque was insufficient. The exercise will take place during the deployment tests. Whether it will affect the schedule is something that is still unclear.