JWST has a problem. Its one device, the Near Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph (NIRISS), has become out of service. NIRISS is, along with other things, conducting spectroscopy on exoplanet atmospheres.
it has been offline since Sunday, January 15 because of a communications blunder.
The internal communications mistake led to the software timing out. There’s no indication of harm to the instrument, thus the spacecraft is normally running normally.
As reported by the space Telescope Science Institute, NIRISS complements other instruments on JWST by offering “unique observational capabilities between 0.6 and 5 m.” It’s used to investigate exoplanet atmospheres, detect primarily light, aka the Era of Recombination, and identify exoplanets. It also has multiple filters which allow it to be flexible and may capture wide-field instruments to study populations of objects. Additionally, it can get rid of light coming from very close objects.
As a part of its involvement with the JWST mission, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) built NIRISS. It has also developed the Fine Guidance Sensor (FGS), which is actually coupled with NIRISS, but is a separate instrument.
The timeframe for when the instrument is going to be back online is unknown, however, it’s bad news for observers. The observation time is in high demand on the JWST and it is not apparent just how this delay will influence observations.
This isn’t the first mishap which the JWST has come across. In December, it was put into safe mode for approximately three weeks due to a software fault in the attitude management system. The MIRI (Mid-Infrared Instrument) of the telescope was also briefly non-operational.
Those problems were dealt with as well as resolved. Ideally, this one is going to be, too.