Building a next-generation space telescope isn't easy. NASA's James Webb telescope will replace the famous Hubble telescope someday, but the delayed observatory project is feeling a little shaken at the moment.
NASA is testing the telescope's spacecraft element to make sure it can survive launch and a harsh life out in space. The spacecraft consists of the sunshield and the spacecraft bus, which houses electrical, communication, propulsion and thermal control subsystems, among others.
The space agency subjected the spacecraft to routine mechanical shock and acoustic vibration tests, which loosened some of the hardware holding the sunshield membrane cover in place. The loose hardware was an assortment of screws and washers, as noted by SpaceNews.
NASA says this sort of issue isn't uncommon during testing for complex spacecraft, but the observatory is under extra scrutiny due to the high profile of the project and its $8 billion price tag.
"NASA is reviewing options for repair and the next steps in spacecraft element launch environment testing," said Greg Robinson, Webb's program director.
The telescope has been beset with a series of technical issues and recently had its projected launch date pushed back to 2020, though some critical pieces of the telescope project successfully earlier this year.
It's good to keep in mind that Hubble, an ultimately triumphant project, was originally expected to launch in the early 1980s, but actually got off the ground in 1990 and still required a series of servicing missions later on.
While the Webb telescope may be facing a minor setback due to the loose hardware, it's better to figure it out on the ground and fix it than have it happen in space.