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The launch of the James Webb Space Telescope, which is poised to become the biggest observatory beyond Earth, is delayed again, this time due to an incident that occurred during operations at the satellite preparation facility in Kourou, French Guiana. Nasa has moved the launch from December 18 to December 22 as engineers test and investigate the damages.

The telescope is at the Arianespace facility to be launched into space. However, the incident happened when technicians were preparing to attach Webb to the launch vehicle adapter, which is used to integrate the observatory with the upper stage of the Ariane 5 rocket. According to Nasa, a sudden, unplanned release of a clamp band which secures Webb to the launch vehicle adapter caused a vibration throughout the observatory.

“A Nasa-led anomaly review board was immediately convened to investigate and instituted additional testing to determine with certainty the incident did not damage any components.,” the American space agency said in a blog post. It added that will provide an update when the testing is completed at the end of this week.

With the investigation underway, the launch has been postponed by four days. The telescope team had been reviewing the instruments onboard the massive observatory ahead of its launch.

The telescope was earlier scheduled to launch on October 31. However, a delay in the process of final testing and shipment led to Nasa and ESA agreeing on a December 18 launch. The spacecraft was scheduled to be shipped to the launch site in August, where the final preparations were to take about two months to complete before it blasted off into space aboard the Ariane 5 rocket.

Once launched from French Guiana, the Ariane 5 rocket will deliver the telescope directly into a precision transfer orbit towards its destination, the second Lagrange point (L2). This point is four times farther away than the Moon, 1.5 million kilometres from Earth in the direction away from the Sun.

It will take about two weeks for the telescope to reach its designated orbit from where it will observe the Universe at wavelengths longer than visible light, namely in the near-infrared and mid-infrared. Nasa said the telescope will be in a six-month commissioning period after being deployed following a 26-minute ride aboard the Ariane 5 launch vehicle.

“Webb will solve mysteries in our solar system, look beyond to distant worlds around other stars, and probe the mysterious structures and origins of our universe and our place in it,” Nasa has said.

The key goals of the telescope include looking back over 13.5 billion years to see the first stars and galaxies forming out of the darkness of the early universe, helping astronomers compare the faintest, earliest galaxies to today’s grand spirals and ellipticals and see right through and into massive clouds of dust where stars and planetary systems are being born.

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India today

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