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posted by janrinok on Friday May 04 2018, @03:07PM   Printer-friendly
from the just-like-my-car dept.

JWST suffers new problem during spacecraft testing

In a presentation at a meeting of the National Academies' Space Studies Board here May 3, Greg Robinson, the JWST program director at NASA Headquarters, said some "screws and washers" appear to have come off the spacecraft during recent environmental testing at a Northrop Grumman facility in Southern California. Technicians found the items after the spacecraft element of JWST, which includes the bus and sunshield but not its optics and instruments, was moved last weekend from one chamber for acoustics tests to another to prepare for vibration testing.

"Right now we believe that all of this hardware — we're talking screws and washers here — come from the sunshield cover," he said. "We're looking at what this really means and what is the recovery plan." The problem, he said, was only a couple of days old, and he had few additional details about the problem. "It's not terrible news, but it's not good news, either," he said. The incident, Robinson argued, showed the importance of the wide range of tests the spacecraft is put through prior to launch. "That's why we do the testing," he said. "We do it now, we find it now, we fix it and we launch a good spacecraft."

This latest incident comes as an independent review board, chartered by NASA in late March after announcing a one-year delay in JWST's launch because of other technical issues, is in the midst of its analysis of the mission and its launch readiness. That review, led by retired aerospace executive and former NASA Goddard director Tom Young, is scheduled to be completed at the end of the month.

NASA is expected to brief Congress on the status of the James Webb Space Telescope in late June.

Also at Popular Mechanics.

Previously: James Webb Space Telescope Vibration Testing Completed
Launch of James Webb Space Telescope Delayed to Spring 2019
JWST: Too Big to Fail?
GAO: James Webb Space Telescope Launch Date Likely Will be Delayed (Again)
Launch of James Webb Space Telescope Delayed to May 2020, Could Exceed Budget Cap
NASA Announces JWST Independent Review Board Members

Related: Northrop Grumman's Faulty Payload Adapter Reportedly Responsible for "Zuma" Failure


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  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 04 2018, @04:12PM (9 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 04 2018, @04:12PM (#675710)

    "but it's not good news, either"

    I completely disagree. Finding these problems ahead of time is very good news. I would much rather find the problems now than leave it unfound and have a failure after launch. There is no such thing as a failure during testing unless you fail to find the problems at all.

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 04 2018, @04:22PM (5 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 04 2018, @04:22PM (#675716)

    So you think finding screws and washers on the floor as opposed to not finding them is good news? If I were the NASA administrator, I might hope that Congress cuts the JWST, so I don't have to explain a $10 billion lost mission.

    • (Score: 2) by bob_super on Friday May 04 2018, @04:41PM

      by bob_super (1357) on Friday May 04 2018, @04:41PM (#675723)

      I have no doubt that more than a few people wouldn't mind if Ariane blew up, because not knowing whether their piece would have failed and crippled the whole thing could be better than the alternative.
      I am counting on all the others involved, to make sure those people get to say "I helped build this wonder" instead.

    • (Score: 2) by takyon on Friday May 04 2018, @06:34PM (3 children)

      by takyon (881) <{takyon} {at} {soylentnews.org}> on Friday May 04 2018, @06:34PM (#675801) Journal

      There's about zero chance of JWST getting cancelled. It's too big to fail (on the ground). If it fails on launch or in space, well, it will be a bad day + years for a lot of people.

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      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 04 2018, @09:58PM (2 children)

        by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 04 2018, @09:58PM (#675873)

        It has already been bad years for a lot more people, not that any of them want to see it fail. It has sucked the money out of many smaller, but arguably equal value space/science projects.

        • (Score: 2) by takyon on Friday May 04 2018, @11:56PM

          by takyon (881) <{takyon} {at} {soylentnews.org}> on Friday May 04 2018, @11:56PM (#675916) Journal

          It could be a good thing if it gets the juices flowing about how to make telescopes big and cheap from the start, preventing a future telescope design from repeating the mistakes of JWST.

          The Kilometer Space Telescope [nasa.gov] just got NIAC funding. The Giant Orbiting Astronomical Telescope [insideunmannedsystems.com] would use modular components flown on multiple launches, although that may not be the best approach given that BFR is around the corner.

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        • (Score: 2) by frojack on Saturday May 05 2018, @01:51AM

          by frojack (1554) Subscriber Badge on Saturday May 05 2018, @01:51AM (#675937) Journal

          but arguably equal value space/science projects.

          No, that's not arguable.

          The value of something is what people are willing to pay for it, and since JWST is getting the bulk of the funding it is clearly valued more than those other projects.

          Are there people who would "Value" their pet project more than JWST?
          Probably, but it doesn't matter, because they have neither the votes nor the money.

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  • (Score: 4, Interesting) by bob_super on Friday May 04 2018, @04:25PM (1 child)

    by bob_super (1357) on Friday May 04 2018, @04:25PM (#675717)

    One the other hand, you're not talking about a very advanced 3D-printed part having a flaw, or a camera that's near-sighted.

    You're talking about someone not counting their screws right, or not specifying the torque right, or not torque-wrenching right.
    When the budget is north if five billion dollars, one would hope those basics are at least done right.

    Which relates to my PCB design theory: it's the darn FET that kills you.
    In short: everyone reviews the high-speed high-power stuff ten times, carefully vets it and simulates every detail ... and nobody notices the LED or FET is on backwards.

    • (Score: 2) by frojack on Friday May 04 2018, @06:06PM

      by frojack (1554) Subscriber Badge on Friday May 04 2018, @06:06PM (#675779) Journal

      It's also possible they were just dropped parts, of the "I'll get it later" type.

      Or two or three technicians doing one job resulting in the predictable Bob tightened them, no Bill did, just check the box and let's go to lunch.

      The paperwork at NASA can be mountainous, all of it piled on to prevent things like this, but ultimately causing things like this.

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  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 05 2018, @08:12PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 05 2018, @08:12PM (#676146)

    I disagree with your disagreement.

    Your argument is based on the notion that there is a specific number of problems, and by finding this one there is one fewer problem to surface after launch.

    The
    I don't think this is the best way to look at it. The number of mission compromising problems is unknown. The point of design is to have no unknown problems. There can be potential problems, but they should have been considered.

    This shows us problems that nobody considered exist. If that is true, it indicates insufficient design and more may exist.