The U.S. space agency, NASA, and its European counterpart, the European Space Agency (ESA), have delayed the long-awaited launch of the James Webb space telescope to no earlier than December 22.

In statements, both agencies say the launch is being held up for additional testing of the orbiting observatory after what appeared to be a minor incident during preparations at the launch facility in Kourou, French Guiana.  

NASA says technicians were preparing to attach the telescope to the launch vehicle adapter, which is used to integrate the observatory with the upper stage of the rocket that will take it into orbit. They say the sudden, unplanned release of a clamp band — which secures the Webb to the launch vehicle adapter — caused a vibration throughout the observatory.

The agency says a NASA-led review board was immediately convened to investigate and perform additional testing to ensure the incident did not damage any of the instrument’s sensitive components. The space agency said it, along with mission partners the ESA and the Canadian space agency will provide an update when the tests are complete late this week.

The Webb telescope, originally scheduled for launch December 18, is designed to replace the aging Hubble telescope. NASA says it is designed to explore every phase of cosmic history — from within our solar system to the most distant observable galaxies and everything in between.  

When ready, the telescope will be launched from the South American site aboard a French-made Ariane 5 rocket.

Some information for this report was provided by the Associated Press.


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