back to article James Webb Space Telescope gets all shook up – launch delayed again

The European Space Agency has delayed the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope until December 22 so that it can undergo additional testing following an incident that sent unintended vibrations through the observatory. The James Webb Space Telescope – an international collaboration between NASA, ESA and the Canadian Space …

  1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    a "sudden, unplanned release of a clamp band"

    Is that NASAspeak for 'something went 'twang''?

    1. pavel.petrman Silver badge

      Re: a "sudden, unplanned release of a clamp band"

      A good measure of a man is how he calls his machine's errors. My favourite is Xerox's mispuff.

      Technologically, the 914 is so complex (more complex, some Xerox salesmen insist, than an automobile) that it has an annoying tendency to go wrong, and consequently Xerox maintains a field staff of thousands of repairmen who are presumably ready to answer a call on short notice. The most common malfunction is a jamming of the supply of copy paper, which is rather picturesquely called a “mispuff,” because each sheet of paper is raised into position to be inscribed by an interior puff of air, and the malfunction occurs when the puff goes wrong. A bad mispuff can occasionally put a piece of the paper in contact with hot parts, igniting it and causing an alarming cloud of white smoke to issue from the machine; in such a case, the operator is urged to do nothing, or, at most, to use a small fire extinguisher that is attached to it, since the fire burns itself out comparatively harmlessly if left alone, whereas a bucket of water thrown over a 914 may convey potentially lethal voltages to its metal surface.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: a "sudden, unplanned release of a clamp band"

        NASA *does* get some of the best names for problems though. Who can forget classics such as "rapid unplanned disassembly", "engine-rich exhaust", or my favorite "unscheduled lithobraking"?

        1. Jonathon Green

          Re: a "sudden, unplanned release of a clamp band"

          Wasn’t “engine rich burn” actually one of SpaceX’s from a recent Starship test flight that ended with a rapid unplanned disassembly shortly before or after landing?

          1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge

            Re: a "sudden, unplanned release of a clamp band"

            Sounds to me like it had an unexpected gravitational interaction - aka they dropped it...

            1. druck Silver badge

              Re: a "sudden, unplanned release of a clamp band"

              Probably the same as when we were trying to get the 75" TV up the stairs to the first floor living room, on its end and one step at a time to clear the ceiling. We accidentally dropped it down the first step on to the concrete floor when getting it on to its end. There was a lot of swearing, but by a miracle the glass didn't break. Now its on the wall you can see the chassis is very slightly dented at one corner. Fingers crossed the stored up stress is going to make it go crack just after the warranty is out.

            2. HildyJ Silver badge

              Re: a "sudden, unplanned release of a clamp band"

              More like they didn't tighten it properly.

              The first thing I thought of was some hot rod spewing steam and coolant because a hose clamp came loose.

        2. Rafael #872397

          Re: a "sudden, unplanned release of a clamp band"

          We have the Regomizer and The Reg online standards converter. It is time we get an El Reg Magnificent TechSpeak Excuse Disguiseolator! (Powered by NASA and BOFH)

        3. Eclectic Man Silver badge

          Re: a "sudden, unplanned release of a clamp band"

          NASA? Mere beginners compared to the century-long experience of the UK's wonderful British Railways Excuses Department. Their responses to delays and cancellations of trains ranged all the way from:

          "Leaves on the line"


          "The wrong kind of snow"*

          *(Absolutely true, except maybe the name of the 'Excuses Department'.)

        4. Chris 239

          Re: a "sudden, unplanned release of a clamp band"

          Wasn't "Engine Rich Exhaust" coined by Scott Manley when talking about on of the Starship tests? At least, IIRC, that's where I first heard the term.

    2. Lusty

      Re: a "sudden, unplanned release of a clamp band"

      Much more likely NASA speak for televised Christmas thing for publicity reasons. Launch and get into orbit and then 24th or 25th push out the solar panels or get the first image, either way millions more will see it in the news.

      1. Lazlo Woodbine Silver badge

        Re: a "sudden, unplanned release of a clamp band"

        The solar panels will take almost two weeks to deploy, then there's weeks of testing. They'd have had to launch in June to get any photos of Santa...

        1. Cuddles Silver badge

          Re: a "sudden, unplanned release of a clamp band"

          It's still possible they might launch in June. Just a couple more delays needed...

    3. Chris 239

      Re: a "sudden, unplanned release of a clamp band"

      That or someone what "OH F**k!" when they realized they had forgotten to tighten the clamp band.

    4. Eclectic Man Silver badge

      Re: a "sudden, unplanned release of a clamp band"

      Showing my ignorance here, but could some kind engineering type pease explain to this (pure-ish) mathematician type what a 'clamp band' is? And is 'unplanned release' a euphemism for destructive failure, or merely the sort of thing my shoelaces tended to do before I started tying them with a reef knot rather than a granny knot?*

      * see for a topological explanation

  2. pavel.petrman Silver badge

    Space telescope that is more sensitive

    Well said. More sensitive to space radiations it's poised to observe as well as more sensitive to being handled roughly, as there is no plan in place for service once it flies. It's a good approach to measure twice, especially in view of the optical anomaly the Hubble was sent upwards with.

  3. Pete 2 Silver badge


    > preparing to attach the telescope to the launch vehicle adapter, a "sudden, unplanned release of a clamp band"

    So basically, they dropped it.

    However, I suspect that the JWST will be subject to a great deal more vibration¹ during launch, so is this incident playing down the event?

    [1] especially if this is still an issue:

    the August 2020 launch and the previous Ariane launch in February 2020, the separation of the faring induced vibrations into the payload stack well above acceptable limits

    1. UCAP Silver badge

      Re: Clang!

      Certainly the vibration during launch would probably shake your back teeth out!

      However NASA are simply following standard procedures developed over the last 50 years. Basically they have a list of planned actions and events that will occur while they are mounting the satellite on the launcher; if anything not on this list occurs, they immediately check everything to make sure that the satellite is still intact and fully operational.

    2. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: Clang!

      It does make one wonder about this. With all the delays and issues this sounds a bit like CYA on someone's part. If the thing has problems once in orbit, the "Clang" can be blamed.

    3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Clang!

      On the one hand, it could be an overabundance of caution over an unplanned jolt of a $10B project. On the other hand, it's been tested for the sorts of vibration expected during launch, which are of known frequency, duration, magnitude and vectors. This "ding" may have been outside any or all of the parameters of what they tested for.

  4. Jonathon Green

    It’s almost certainly not a big deal, but as it’s a lot easier to deal with a slightly loose connection, fractionally misaligned mechanical linkage, or tweaked pipe fitting on the ground than in orbit I don’t blame them one little bit for wanting to be sure…

    1. John Robson Silver badge

      Particularly when said orbit is around a Lagrange point, rather than LEO...

  5. Tom Chiverton 1

    Geez, isn't it time to give up on monoliths and launch a larger swarm based telescope

    1. lglethal Silver badge
    2. cray74

      Geez, isn't it time to give up on monoliths and launch a larger swarm based telescope

      Swarm telescopes are dependent on optical interferometry, which is a pain to get working correctly. Only a handful have ever been functional, and even fewer are working. This means the process of operating a swarm of optical-infrared-UV satellites isn't as simple as slapping some 1-meter telescopes on a Starlink chassis, launching 60 on a Falcon 9, and then laughing as old school astronomers are left in the dust. Rather, it'd likely be an effort of several decades with one or more pathfinder missions proving out the technology.

      Besides requiring the novelty of optical interferometry, a swarm of astronomical satellites focusing (hah) on multiple, small platforms would lack the total "light bucket" capacity of a single, large telescope. For example, while the Navy Precision Optical Interferometer can resolve the shapes of oblate stars and geosynchronous satellites it does so with just six 50-centimeter telescopes. (Currently supplemented by 4 non-interferometric 1.8m "outrigger" telescopes, with plans to add 1-meter interferometric optics). That's a grand total of 11.3 square meters of collection area (mostly in the outriggers). The James Webb has 33 square meters of collection area. That's just better at seeing faint, distant objects than a swarm with less collection area.

      Ultimately, yes, a swarm of large telescopes in space could be awesome but, for now, monolithic and segmented telescopes like Hubble and James Webb are easier to implement.

      1. John Robson Silver badge

        To some extent the JWST *is* a swarm - there are quite a few mirrors which will be unpacked and lined up.. I wonder if there is enough scope to assemble a few of these and dock them together...

    3. Gene Cash Silver badge

      No, it's time to make bigger rockets (again)

  6. Disgusted Of Tunbridge Wells Silver badge

    > unintended vibrations through the observatory

    Isn't being hurtled into space famously vibratey?

    1. JDX Gold badge

      but those vibrations have been tested for. the vibrations of dropping it have not.

      1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge

        Well, they have NOW...

    2. aaronmdjones

      Yes, but those are not unintended.

  7. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

    Paging Denis Norden...

    I have everything crossed for JWST. And in the end these things normally come right. (*cough* Hubble *cough*) But it just has disaster written all over it.

  8. Draco
    Paris Hilton

    Isn't this One of Zeno's Paradoxes?

    Something about never being able to attain a goal because no matter how close you get to it, there will always be a vanishingly smaller ways to go before achieving it.

    1. yetanotheraoc Silver badge

      Re: Isn't this One of Zeno's Paradoxes?

      That's why we have stretch goals.

    2. Disgusted Of Tunbridge Wells Silver badge

      Re: Isn't this One of Zeno's Paradoxes?

      That explains exactly why renovating my kitchen has taken so many years.

    3. Alien8

      Re: Isn't this One of Zeno's Paradoxes?

      Isn't that Fusion power?

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Isn't this One of Zeno's Paradoxes?

      If I ever get to meet Zeno, I'm going to punch him in the nose. It's ok though, because logically my fist can never reach his nose.

  9. Chris 239

    "1,500,000km (930,000 miles) beyond Earth's orbit"

    could confuse some that think of orbit as circling the planet whereas in this case the orbit referred to is the earth's orbit round the sun. *

    though I think technically it will still be in orbit around earth just that the orbital period will be one year and so remain roughly inline with the sun and earth.

    * that's what I did and was going to comment that it implies there is only orbit round earth and manged to understand the sentence just before making a fool of myself !!!

    1. cmdrklarg

      JWST is planned to actually orbit the L2 Lagrange point in a halo orbit. Technically it will be in a solar orbit.

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