The James Webb Space Telescope is a technological marvel, but its location 150,000 kilometers from Earth makes it susceptible to damage from the vacuum of space. A problem with the spacecraft’s Mid-Infrared Instrument has created a new technical complication (MIRI).
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The Medium-Resolution Spectroscopy (MRS) mode, one of the instrument’s four, has caused technical problems with a mechanism that helps it function, according to NASA. Set up for a scientific observation on Aug. 4 revealed increased friction in the medium-resolution spectroscopy.
NASA immediately began conducting preliminary health checks and investigations into the problem, and an anomaly review committee was established on September 6 to determine what to do next. Until then, however, the Webb team has halted plans to schedule observations using this observation style.
“The observatory is in good health and MIRI’s other three observation modes, low-resolution spectroscopy and coronagraph, operate normally and remain available for scientific observations,” said an ESA statement.
The faulty mechanism is a grid wheel that allows scientists to switch between short, medium and long wavelengths while making observations in MRS mode. Webb team members have begun evaluating the observatory’s performance and formulating plans to begin MRS sightings.
A set of equipment known as the Mid-InfraRed Instrument allows the telescope to see in the infrared, namely between 5 and 28.3 microns. MIRI allows scientists to capture stunningly detailed and sensitive mid-infrared photos and spectra.
A micrometeoroid hit the $10 billion observatory during its final stages of commissioning before it began scientific operations, so this isn’t the telescope’s first time reporting damage. NASA reported that the James Webb Space Telescope impacted one of its main mirror segments between May 23 and May 25.
To better understand how to boost the observatory for use in orbit, the mirrors were developed using a combination of calculations and real-life test effects on mirror samples.