James Webb Space Telescope Delayed Yet Again

28 Juin, 2018, 15:21 | Auteur: Therese Cote

NASA in March said the James Webb Space Telescope, the long-awaited successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, would miss its planned 2019 launch window.

The IRB traced the 29-month delay (from a targeted launch date of October 2018 to March 2021) to five factors: human error, "embedded problems", excessive optimism, systems complexity, and lack of experience in key areas, such as sunshade development.

You can see Ball Aerospace optical engineer Larkin Carey reflected on the gold surface of the James Webb Space Telescope's secondary mirror during testing in 2017.

The agency also set up an independent review board (IRB) in March to monitor the observatory's progress and develop recommendations. But in the end, the value of the telescope itself is more important than either cost or schedule, and NASA remains committed to making JWST a reality.

NASA also announced a new development cost estimate of $8.8 billion, which is 10 percent above the $8 billion cost cap established by Congress during a "re-plan" of the mission several years ago.

"I think it's too early to really give an exact sense of what's happening there", said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA associate administrator for science, of congressional reaction to the latest delay.

The JWST, which is being built primarily by Northrop Grumman, is NASA's great hope for carrying on the legacy of the Hubble Space Telescope and answering some of the biggest questions in science, including whether we're alone in the universe. Such human errors, he said, accounted for 18 months of schedule delay and $600 million in additional costs.

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These are just some of the "seemingly small" mistakes that could and should have been avoided, the board said.

The James Webb Space Telescope project is significantly more complex than Hubble because it's created to make observations from a gravitational balance point a million miles from Earth, with no scenario for servicing.

"We want to take leaps, otherwise we're not NASA", Zurbuchen said. So the telescope will sport a giant sunshade the size of a tennis court, which will unfold after James Webb reaches its final destination, a gravitationally stable spot about 930,000 miles (1.5 million kilometers) from Earth. "We always want to talk about the successes that we have". That report offered about 30 recommendations that NASA had accepted to revise the development of JWST and its oversight of work at prime contractor Northrop Grumman. Two of the recommendations focus on more complex issues and require additional review, but "we fully agree with the intent", he said.

That sentiment was seconded by NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine in a statement.

"Mission success is the top priority", he said.

The observatory's original launch date was 2010 and the cost under $1 billion. He warned the new date does not allow for any more major problems or mistakes, or extra excessive testing.

"The complexity and risk can not be overstated and overestimated", Thomas Young, chair of the IRB, told reporters.

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