The James Webb Space Telescope, whose launch and flight we watched attentively the day before war, received its first combat wound. In late May the main mirror of the observatory was hit by a micrometeorite. But at NASA they claim that this is normal, although the blow was a little stronger than simulated on Earth in preparation for the mission.
The impact occurred between May 23 and 25 and hit the C3 segment of the main mirror. After initial assessments, the team found that the telescope is operating at a level that still exceeds all mission requirements, but little impact on the data still exists. Careful analysis and measurements continue.
The effects of external factors, including the impact of micrometeorites, will continue throughout the life of the James Webb Observatory in space; such events were foreseen during the construction and testing of the mirror on the ground. During the construction of the telescope, engineers used a variety of simulations and real-world tests on mirror samples to get a clearer idea of how to prepare the observatory for orbit. The impact, which occurred between May 23 and 25, is slightly stronger than simulated and is beyond what could be verified on Earth.
The ability of the James Webb Space Telescope to adjust the position of the mirrors allows you to partially correct the results of such impacts. By adjusting the position of the affected segment, engineers can compensate for some of the distortions, although not all degradations of this kind can be corrected in this way. NASA engineers have already made the first such adjustment for the recently affected C3 segment, and additional adjustments are planned for a more subtle adjustment. These steps will be repeated during the mission when needed.
To further protect the telescope in orbit, scientists can perform protective maneuvers that deliberately divert James Webb’s optics from known meteor showers. Unfortunately, the impact in question was not the result of a meteor shower and is now considered an inevitable accident. A specialized team of engineers has been formed at NASA to consider ways to mitigate the effects of further micrometeorite impacts of this magnitude.
Meanwhile, the James Webb Space Telescope is still preparing to begin real work for the benefit of science. The first image is expected in just 32 days on July 12, 2022.