James Webb telescope launch delayed to 2021

Complex observatory, which won't be accessible from Earth once launched, needs additional testing, development.
By Laurel Kornfeld | Nov 16, 2018
Launch of NASA's James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) has been delayed again and is now scheduled for March 2021.

The delay, which will increase the project's cost from $8 billion to $8.8 billion, was announced by NASA officials on Wednesday, June 27. It is the latest of numerous delays for the launch, which was originally scheduled for 2007.

Because Congress capped the telescope's total cost at $8 billion, they will need to reauthorize the project with this year's appropriations.

JWST's primary mirror is 21.3 feet (6.5 meters) wide, in contrast to Hubble, whose mirror has a diameter of 7.8 feet (2.4 meters). Unlike Hubble, which is in low-Earth orbit, JWST will be positioned 930,000 miles (1.5 million km) in a gravitationally stable location.

Since JWST will observe in infrared wavelengths, it and its instruments have to be kept cold. To accomplish this, the telescope will be launched with a giant sunshield, which will deploy once JWST reaches its destination.

Tears in the sunshield and the need for additional testing of JWST's instruments have led to the most recent delay. The telescope was set to launch in October 2018 until problems integrating its instruments led NASA to announce a postponement to spring 2019 last September. This March, launch was delayed again to May 2020 due to various setbacks experienced by main contractor Northrop Grumman.

At the March announcement, NASA reported the appointment of an independent review board (IRB) to study the project's progress and make recommendations for improvement. In its report, submitted on May 31, the IRB identified five factors responsible for the delay, including human error, "embedded problems," excessive optimism, systems complexity, and lack of experience in important areas, such as development of the sunshield.

The IRB issued 32 recommendations for proceeding, 30 of which have been accepted by NASA.

"We have to get this right here on the ground before we go to space," said associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate Thomas Zurbuchen. "And I just want to re-emphasize: Webb is worth the wait."

Scientists will use JWST to observe the universe's first stars and galaxies, study the formation and evolution of galaxies, and probe the atmospheres of exoplanets for signs of life.

"Webb is vital to the next generation of research beyond NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. It's going to do amazing things--things we've never been able to do before--as we peer into other galaxies and see light from the very dawn of time," NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a public statement.




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