Science

NASA Says Space Debris Will Definitely Slam Into the James Webb Space Telescope

This is all part of the plan.

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope isfully scattered, ”according to Thomas Zurbuchen, the agency’s chief scientific officer — that is certainly cause for celebration after decades of hard work and tens of billions of dollars spent.

But the huge space observatory is not out of the woods yet. As it orbits the Sun in a chaotic orbit, it will likely encounter a lot of space debris along the way — and the impact, his team says, is likely to be inevitable.

“Some small impacts will happen from micro-meteorites,” Michael Thaler, a scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said during a live broadcast over the weekend. “You know, over the life of the mission there will be some damage to the telescope’s mirrors.”

The telescope itself is already weak, but the team says it will likely be able to survive some damage.

“Let’s say a piece of debris hits it,” NASA engineer Julie Van Campen said during the flow. “And then we had a problem like that smashed mirror.”

In terms of protection, she explained, “there isn’t much.” “What you see is what you get.”

However, if a small meteor tear rips through the telescope’s sun visor, van Campen said, there will be at least four more layers to keep the shield together.

“It has been a part of our calculations over our lifetimes,” she added.

Things can get pretty hairy for the JWST team on the ground, though there’s no way to serve the observatory in person. This is in contrast to NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, which the agency’s space shuttle visited five times between 1993 and 2009 for repairs and upgrades.

But there is one important difference: Hubble was operating in a much more cluttered low Earth orbit. JWST will orbit the Sun at L2 (Lagrangian point 2), a location too far away to form a straight line with the Earth and the Sun.

“It’s a very nice place to be,” Thaler explained during the broadcast, adding that “it’s a cleaner place when it comes to junk space.”

Fortunately, the engineers thought ahead and also built some additional iterations. Telescope mirrors, for example, are designed to do some damage without forcing their scientific endeavours.

NASA has set an ambitious goal of having the JWST last at least ten years, a number primarily limited by the amount of fuel the telescope needs to stay in orbit and operate its instruments.

For now, the pressure is off. Engineers have achieved a colossal feat by unfolding the telescope, a harrowing process that involves hundreds of steps.

But space debris and meteorites will always be a threat – even when you take extra precautions.

Read more: NASA thinks space junk will hit the James Webb Space Telescope – but that’s okay [Inverse]

More about the telescope: The James Webb Space Telescope has officially begun to open its massive golden mirror

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