NASA delays next-generation space telescope until 2020 (Update)

March 27, 2018 by Marcia Dunn
NASA delays next-generation space telescope until 2020
In this April 13, 2017 photo provided by NASA, technicians lift the mirror of the James Webb Space Telescope using a crane at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. The telescope's 18-segmented gold mirror is specially designed to capture infrared light from the first galaxies that formed in the early universe. On Tuesday, March 27, 2018, NASA announced it has delayed the launch of the next-generation space telescope until 2020. (Laura Betz/NASA via AP)

NASA is delaying the launch of its next-generation space telescope—its highest science priority—until at least 2020.

Top officials said Tuesday that more time is needed to assemble and test the James Webb Space Telescope, which is considered a successor to the long-orbiting Hubble Space Telescope.

It's the latest in a series of delays for the telescope, dating back a decade. More recently, Webb was supposed to fly this year, but last fall NASA bumped the launch until 2019.

"Simply put, we have one shot to get this right before going into space," explained Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA's associate administrator of science.

For such a highly complex machine designed to "look at the universe in a way that we've never seen it," there can be no shortcuts, he stressed. The telescope will study planets orbiting other stars, while probing the earliest times of the cosmos.

Some mistakes were made while preparing the telescope, which slowed work. At the same time, NASA underestimated the scale of the job, Zurbuchen said.

Unlike Hubble, which was serviced regularly by space shuttle astronauts, Webb will orbit the sun at a point about 1 million miles (1.6 million kilometers) from Earth—unreachable in case of a breakdown. Hubble lifted off in 1990 with a flawed mirror that blurred its vision; spacewalking astronauts had to fix it in 1993.

This 2015 illustration provided by Northrop Grumman via NASA shows the James Webb Space Telescope. On Tuesday, March 27 2018, NASA announced it is delaying the launch of its next-generation space telescope until 2020. (Northrop Grumman/NASA via AP)

"You've heard this before, but it rings true for us. Really, failure is not an option," Zurbuchen told reporters in a teleconference.

NASA and its partner, the European Space Agency, will firm up a new launch date, now tentatively targeted for May 2020 from French Guiana. An independent review board is being formed to look into the remaining work and feasible launch dates.

Once a date is actually set, NASA said it will provide a new cost estimate. 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. He promised Congress would receive a detailed report on schedule and cost this summer.

The telescope is named after the NASA administrator who oversaw the Mercury and Gemini programs and development of the Apollo moon missions. All its parts are now at Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems in Redondo Beach, California. The two halves of the 13,500-pound (6,100-kilogram) observatory still must be joined and the entire structure tested.

"Extensive testing is the only way to ensure that the mission will succeed with high confidence," Zurbuchen said.

In addition to a mirror 21 feet (6.5 meters) across, Webb will sport a five-layer sunshield the size of a tennis court so it can make infrared observations at frigid temperatures. Several tears across all five layers occurred during folding and deployment of the sunshield during testing. The spacecraft's propulsion system also had its share of trouble.

NASA, meanwhile, is launching a planet-hunting spacecraft named Tess on April 16 from Cape Canaveral. Tess will serve as a scout for Webb, identifying planets around nearby stars that Webb later will study for possible signs of life.

Neither Tess nor other joint missions will be impacted by the Webb delays, Zurbuchen said.

Explore further: Image: James Webb Telescope tested in thermal vacuum chamber

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KBK
1.7 / 5 (3) Mar 27, 2018
Military/aerospace contractors.

All they know how to do is suck the life and money out of publicly funded systems.

Only when it is realized that there are other options, and those options are enacted....does this heinous level of parasitism finally end.

space x and the competitions around such space x involvement..has shown this aspect quite well.

The days of "huge money-little to no return" for public space money are finally coming to an end.

The Webb telescope is a legacy program, and we'll not see these kinds of losses again, it is suspected.
jonesdave
5 / 5 (3) Mar 27, 2018
Damn. Buggrit.
Turgent
not rated yet Mar 27, 2018
No mistakes allowed. Hope this comes with a money back warranty.
baudrunner
not rated yet Mar 27, 2018
a few too many 'oops' moments - launch date moved forward far too may times; cost overruns etc. This is fast becoming(?) a debacle
Cusco
5 / 5 (8) Mar 27, 2018
Take your time folks and do it right. Unlike the Pentagon NASA doesn't get rewarded for failures.
carbon_unit
5 / 5 (2) Mar 27, 2018
Given the Hubble fiasco, I can certainly understand them being extremely cautious. If/when the Space X BFR comes to pass, I imagine it would be capable of servicing the Webb.
Steve 200mph Cruiz
1.8 / 5 (5) Mar 27, 2018
This has cost at least 10 billion.
Why can't they just launch it in sections and assemble it in space? Just freaking pay for the extra launches

Frankly this has become a cancer for NASA. Terrible design prone to failure sucking up a huge part of the budget. I'm sick of it, they should of scraped this 15 years ago. We chose this instead of landing on Mars and it can't even compete in scientific value to gravitational wave detectors.
alexander2468
not rated yet Mar 29, 2018
A mirror to optical perfection dons its spectacles

Having lost the shuttle it's not so simple any more plus this is going in to high an orbit to reach, 10billion will look cheap once in its in orbit, just hope it does not need spectacles like Hubble.

Steve 200mph Cruiz> This has cost at least 10 billion.
Why can't they just launch it in sections and assemble it in space? Just freaking pay for the extra launches

Frankly this has become a cancer for NASA. Terrible design prone to failure sucking up a huge part of the budget. I'm sick of it, they should of scraped this 15 years ago. We chose this instead of landing on Mars and it can't even compete in scientific value to gravitational wave detectors.

alexander2468
3 / 5 (2) Mar 29, 2018
A myopic view
This is going to be an interesting topic in Congress if it befalls the optical Hubble test; I never caught on to why a perfect mirror needed spectacles. It was so perfect an error it was a perfection correction. My suspicions lie in the implementation of some form of Albert Einstein's relativistic calculations!
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (2) Mar 29, 2018
Why can't they just launch it in sections and assemble it in space?

Because this is a high precision machine, not something you simply slap together in orbit with a monkey-wrench. It also would need to go from low orbit (where you could potentially assemble stuff) to where it's supposed to go. (I.e. through the entire belt of space garbage we have around our planet). Better to have it in a folded/protected state until then and finally deployed on site.
javjav
not rated yet Mar 29, 2018
Hubble was planned to launch in 1983, but project delays and the need post launch fixes didn't make it operational until 1994. That's 11 years and huge extra costs . But even with that it was totally worth it. And this was thanks to the great determination to accomplish the full mission and beyond. However, I am afraid it wil not be the case for JWT. The star shade option for JWT was the true potential game changer but it was not approved due to cost over runs and lack of similar determination, which makes JWT much less inspiring. As Yoda said, you either do or you don't, you don't try.
Turgent
1 / 5 (2) Mar 29, 2018
$10B over 10 years is rounding error in Washington. It's an average cost of $6.66/year/taxpayer. It is hard to get a concise number for annual climate science spending. It appears to be between $3B and $6B annually. Assume $4.5B for an average and that is $30/year/taxpayer. Being that climate science studies are so far out on the curve of diminishing returns* funding could easily be cut in half. This would easily save $2.25B annually or $15/year/taxpayer. Let's fund a JWST follow-on, thorium reactor research and build, as well as fusion reactors, and degrees in science, engineering, or math.

At $120,000 tuition for a 4 year degree in science, engineering, or math this could fund graduating 18,750 annually.

*We don't need Climate science studies to conjecture that tree frogs and squirrel mating habits will be adversely effected by AGW, however intellectual power to deal with it is worth infinitely more.

Osiris1
not rated yet Mar 29, 2018
Think that Trumpie yanked the funding from this project to spend on his useless 'Wall to keep _____ rapists and creeemialls out (you fill in blank with whichever minority you think dumbo is 'KKKing' now). Of course, if he means to stage a 'Reichstag Incident' like '11Sep01' to stage a coup by invoking the present settled law: "Internal Security Act of 1950"; and declare himself dictator and arrest Congress and the Supreme Court, THEN the situation changes! A LOT! Then the flow will reverse and it will be WE AMERICANS who will want to get OUT of 'Lo(a)rd Trumpf's dicktatorship to freedom in Mexico. THAT maaay be the reeeel reason Trump wants that wall.
Osiris1
5 / 5 (2) Mar 29, 2018
With the new 'Space Dragon' people capsule, a mission could be crafted to service that Webbscope. One with a Falcon BFR as the launcher carrying two payloads: a 'SpaceDragon people carrier over top an interorbital transfer vehicle with the spare parts needed, including a detachable airlock for the 'Dragon' to dock to so workers could sleep and eat in the 'Dragon' and work all suited up in the 'interorbital' for taking good parts to the 'scope and returning the bad for transport back to Earth. All could land like the others, soft landing back at SpaceX base.

Get over it fellas, we are NO longer bound by 'low orbit' like the shuttle was. In fact, we ought to launch one of those shuttles after modifying it to STAY in space. Easy to do it! Mount four of the
Ad-Astra's hottest new V.A.S.I.M.R. engines under the wing like a spacefaring B-47 heavy. It could carry enough fuel to go to Pluto and back if it had do. NEVER have to go back to Earth, simply use ISS as a base.
Mark Thomas
not rated yet Mar 29, 2018
Take your time folks and do it right. Unlike the Pentagon NASA doesn't get rewarded for failures.


So you are saying failure is not an option? :-)

BTW, I just love that line from Apollo 13! What a fantastic attitude I can't get enough of.
Mark Thomas
not rated yet Mar 29, 2018
All these problems and delays make me think about the next big space telescope after JWST because of the huge lead times on these things. The next decadal review is coming up fast and there are a few good candidates like LUVOIR.

https://en.wikipe...Surveyor

In terms of what would be exciting, I wonder what it would take to build a telescope capable of resolving a 2,000 mile (~3,200 km) diameter habitable zone object in the Alpha Centauri system into a one pixel image for spectroscopy? It would be mind-blowing to not only know what is in the habitable zones there, but have decent images of the entire Alpha Centauri system.

To do this might take something a little bigger than the proposed 11.7 meter HDST or even the 15.1 meter LUVOIR. Maybe we need to shoot for 17 to 20 meters, I am not sure, but given the delays, we should probably go big.
alexander2468
1 / 5 (2) Mar 29, 2018
You have to have the courage to pull the purse strings

Ground based telescopes have equalled and surpassed Hubble even though Hubble has advantages, it is at an exorbitant cost and there is no shuttle to fix it and it is only now working because of the shuttle. The JWT cannot be repaired from the shuttle because its orbit it to high so it's irrelevant it's not working. The JWT is in a perilous position, it is going to develop unfixable faults in succession. A successful orbit its first major hurdle, its second is its myopic view when opens its mirrors when we know what spectacle prescription is required with now way of send astronauts up to install it.
humy
3 / 5 (2) Mar 30, 2018
I find this very scary;
What if they finally do launch it in 2020 only to find it has a major fault and no way to fix it!
What a shameful embarrassment that would be!
~10 Billion dollars of public money completely wasted putting a worthless piece of junk into space!
I think ~10 Billion dollars could go a large way to eliminating world poverty.
There would be absolute uproar, maybe even riots!
It would be both a real disaster and an extreme embarrassment for astronomy hard for astronomy to ever recover from.
It may well result in severe cuts to astronomy funding for a very long time.
They really MUST make sure NOT to screw THIS one up!

alexander2468
not rated yet Mar 30, 2018
They could only test Hubbles mirror in orbit. That Says It All

I find this very scary;
What if they finally do launch it in 2020 only to find it has a major fault and no way to fix it!
What a shameful embarrassment that would be!
~10 Billion dollars of public money completely wasted putting a worthless piece of junk into space!
I think ~10 Billion dollars could go a large way to eliminating world poverty.
There would be absolute uproar, maybe even riots!
It would be both a real disaster and an extreme embarrassment for astronomy hard for astronomy to ever recover from.
It may well result in severe cuts to astronomy funding for a very long time.
They really MUST make sure NOT to screw THIS one up!

Turgent
not rated yet Mar 30, 2018

~10 Billion dollars of public money completely wasted putting a worthless piece of junk into space!


Not a waste if it fails. Real people doing real work to extend man's knowledge. That beats more free money to brain dead druggies so they will vote for more free stuff.

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