surprisingly large micrometeoroid impact damages mirror segment

surprisingly large micrometeoroid impact damages mirror segment
Stefan Deiters
9. June 2022

That micrometeoroids in the primary mirror of the space telescope James Webb was generally expected and considered inevitable. However, an impact registered in May was significantly stronger than previously modeled. According to NASA, this has an impact on the quality of the data, but it is still well above expectations.

The 18-segment primary mirror of the James Webb Space Telescope in a clean room at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in April 2017.

Photo: NASA / Desiree Stover [Groansicht]

The impacts of micrometeoroids on satellites and probes traveling in space cannot be avoided and their consequences are taken into account when planning missions. It also struck one of the segments of the main mirror of NASA and ESA’s James Webb Space Telescope between May 23 and 25, it was announced yesterday. However, after an initial assessment of the damage, the team found that the telescope continues to perform at a level that even exceeds the previously set requirements. However, the damage is clearly visible in the data. Further analyzes are currently being carried out.

The mirror of James Webb was designed to withstand the bombardment of micrometeoroids, i.e. dust-sized particles in space at extreme speeds. That there are such impacts on the orbit of James Webb around the Lagrange point L2 of the Earth-Sun system had been expected. For this reason, impacts by micrometeoroids were simulated during the construction of the telescope and mirror, and dust particles were fired at mirror segments in the laboratory. However, the impact that has now become known was stronger than the modeled impacts.

“We always knew that Webb withstand the space environment, which consists of harsh ultraviolet light and charged particles from the Sun, cosmic rays from exotic sources in the galaxy, and occasional impacts from micrometeoroids in our solar system,” explains Paul Geithner, deputy technical project leader at Goddard Space Flight Center of NASA. “We have Webb designed and built with a performance reserve – optical, thermal, electrical, mechanical – to ensure that it can fulfill its ambitious scientific mission even after many years in space.”

In addition, as NASA describes on its website, wre
Webb able to change the position of the mirror segments, which would partially compensate for the consequences of such impacts. The operations team has already made a first such adjustment for the recently launched segment C3. Further adjustments that should lead to an even better correction are planned. The package of measures against micrometeoroid impacts also includes rotating the telescope when known meteoroid showers occur so that the optics are protected. However, the most recent impact was not the result of a shower and is currently considered an unavoidable chance event.

“Since the mirrors of Webb exposed to space, we anticipated that occasional micrometeoroid impacts would degrade the telescope’s performance over time,” said Lee Feinberg of Goddard Space Flight Centerwhich is used for the telescope optics of Webb
responsible for. “Since launch we have had four smaller, measurable micrometeoroid impacts that were in line with expectations and recently one impact that was larger than our predictions. We will use this data to update our analysis of performance over time and also.” to develop operational approaches to improve the imaging performance of Webb Maximize as much as possible over many years.”

According to NASA, the impact would have no impact on the current schedule. Furthermore, it is planned to publish the first pictures of Webb in mid-July ( reported) and then to start with the scientific operation.


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