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NASA Webb Telescope Recovers From Glitch That Interrupted Its Work

A software problem threw the James Webb Space Telescope off its game for a couple weeks.

A NASA illustration of the James Webb Space Telescope in space.
NASA GSFC/CIL/Adriana Manrique Gutierrez

The James Webb Space Telescope has snapped out of a nearly two-week bout of technical hiccups. The next-gen observatory, which has been wowing scientists with its discoveries, starting experiencing problems on Dec. 7. In a statement on Wednesday, NASA said the issue was "due to a software fault triggered in the attitude control system, which controls the pointing of the observatory." 

The fault caused the telescope to go into safe mode through which it protects itself by shutting down nonessential systems while its team troubleshoots. The glitch didn't completely stop JWST's work. "This event resulted in several pauses to science operations totaling a few days over that time period," said NASA. Webb was back in fighting shape as of Dec. 20 after the telescope team adjusted the commanding system.  

Glitches are par for the course for almost any complex space mission. The long-lived Hubble Space Telescope has famously survived a host of technical problems over its more than three decades of service.   

While technical snafus aren't fun, it's good news that Webb handled the issue properly. "The observatory and instruments are all in good health, and were not in any danger while Webb's onboard fault management system worked as expected to keep the hardware safe," NASA said.

Webb is still a youngster, having launched in December 2021. It's a joint project from NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency. The telescope already had to contend with a larger-than-expected micrometeorite smacking into one one of its mirrors, and it will likely encounter future challenges as it goes about studying the universe.

NASA is working to reschedule the interrupted science observations.