NASA reports that a meteorite that struck the James Webb Space Telescope caused “significant irreparable” damage to one of the panels it uses to stare into deep space.
The orbital observatory was launched last December and was recently launched A whole bunch of new notesincluding what is said to be the “deepest” and most detailed picture of the universe to date.
Like any spacecraft, it encountered micrometeorites and its sensors detected six distortions on the telescope’s primary mirror plates that were attributed to the strikes.
“Each small meteor caused a wavefront degradation of the affected mirror segment, as measured while sensing the normal wavefront,” NASA.
Some of these deteriorations can be corrected by adjusting the math that NASA applies to the data each panel collects, according to a research paper published last week.
However, one strike – which occurred between May 22 and 24 – was caused by a smaller, larger meteor and resulted in a “major uncorrectable change” to segment C3 according to the document.
Fortunately, this change isn’t particularly affecting how the telescope operates as a whole — and NASA has said its performance continues to exceed expectations — but it fundamentally reduces the accuracy of the data collected.
However, the strike has caused some concern about the effect that future strikes of these much larger micrometeorites might have.
“It is not yet clear whether the May 2022 strike on Section C3 is a rare event,” the document said.
There could be a possibility that this was an “unlucky early strike by a small, high-kinetic meteor that may statistically only occur once every several years” as the NASA team considered.
But it is possible that “the telescope may be more susceptible to damage by micro-meteorites than previous modeling.”
The project team is conducting additional investigations into the micrometeorite assemblies [and] How do effects affect beryllium mirrors”.
Another possible way to mitigate the hits could involve reducing the amount of time the JWST satellite spends “looking in the direction of orbital motion, which statistically has higher rates and energies of micrometeorites.”
An increasing amount of orbital debris regularly prompted International Space Station observers to do so Executing “avoidance maneuvers” To prevent him from being hit.
NASA is currently tracking more than 27,000 pieces of space junk, although it says there is a lot of debris out there — too small to be tracked, but still large enough to threaten human spaceflight as well as robotic missions.
“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 larger,” NASA said.
“There is a larger micrometer (0.000039 inch in diameter) debris,” she added, all of which could pose a hazard.
“Even small paint splashes can damage a spacecraft” when traveling at speeds of up to 17,500 miles per hour – fast enough to get from London to New York in 12 minutes, NASA said.