NASA's Webb telescope delayed, may exceed $8 billion price tag

29 March, 2018, 02:28 | Author: Myrtle Cook
  • What Will NASA Say About the James Webb Space Telescope Today at 11:30 am ET

NASA will delay the launch of its ambitious James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) by almost a year, until approximately May 2020.

After an independent assessment of remaining tasks for the highly complex space observatory, Webb's previously revised 2019 launch window is now targeted for about May 2020.

NASA administrator Robert Lightfoot said, "Webb is the highest priority project for the agency's Science Mission Directorate, and the largest global space science project in United States history".

Lightfoot on Tuesday said all of the telescope's flight hardware is now complete but added that issues brought to light with the spacecraft elements are forcing them to delay launch.

Currently, the telescope's flight systems are complete, and its instruments are undergoing additional testing, while it waits to be fully pieced together with the spacecraft that will position it in orbit.

NASA announced the delay on 27 March, saying that engineers needed more time to assemble and test the components of the spacecraft at its main contractor, Northrop Grumman in Redondo Beach, California. In addition, an independent review board chaired by retired aerospace executive Tom Young will review the project's schedule, helping to establish a firmer timeline for launch.

NASA will consider the findings and recommendations of both the boards' findings for defining a more specific launch time frame. The project's standing review board predicted with 70 per cent confidence that, with further tests, the telescope will be ready to launch in May 2020.

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The new delay is perilous for the Webb project, risking spending more money than its allocated total of $8 billion for the development-and-construction phase of the mission. In response, NASA will increase its engineering oversight, make some personnel changes, and institute new management reporting structures that will involve daily progress reports from Northrop Grumman. A sunshield the size of a tennis court, and a spacecraft "bus" that houses the avionics, the solar panels and other tools, are planned to be folded into the rocket for launch.

The structures are created to fold up origami-style to fit within the Ariane 5 rocket's nose cone, then perform a high-risk deployment in orbit.

The James Webb Space Telescope will blast off from French Guiana before reaching its final destination about a million miles away from Earth. As with all NASA projects, rigorous testing takes time, increasing the likelihood of mission success.

"We have one shot to get this right before going into space", said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of Nasa's science mission directorate.

The successor to the Hubble Space Telescope has been delayed yet again and will not now launch before May 2020. These tests will take a few months to complete.

Delays in testing the sunshield and problems with the in-space propulsion system have slowed work. Officials acknowledge the cost may exceed the $8 billion development cap set by Congress. NASA already has poured $7.3 billion into the telescope, said Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot. ESA is providing the Ariane 5 as part of its scientific collaboration with NASA.

It goes without saying that JWST is huge (and heavy); it is made up of three elements; the Integrated Science Instrument Module (ISIM), the Optical Telescope Element (OTE) - the eye of the telescope which includes a 6.5 metre diameter primary mirror (Hubble's is 2.4 metres) made up of 18 hexagonal segments - and the Spacecraft Element.

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