The continuing technical troubles of the James Webb Space Telescope.


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The continuing technical troubles of the James Webb Space Telescope.

Though it appears they are keeping within their latest budget and scheduling margins (which is almost nine times the original budget and almost a decade behind the original schedule), the number of issues described in this article is quite worrisome.

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3 comments

  • It’ll launch and work fine. As in, discover a whole bunch of stuff that no-one understands anyway (which is an accurate description of cosmology in general).

    A few years after they’ll start talking about the next decade long development program, low ball the estimate and starve every other program.

    No lessons will be learned.

  • Hi Trent,

    I think you are too nonchalant about the success of Webb. This is probably the most risky science project NASA has ever attempted. Though the track record is generally good for NASA science missions, there is still a gigantic chance that Webb will fail, especially because it is so cutting edge. It must operate for years in the shadow of the Earth, where things are very cold and dark. Making hardware that can function in this environment is the real challenge of the project, one that no one has ever done before.

    As for lessons learned, I think the situation here is comparable to Hubble in the 1980s. The astronomy community went for a big project then, and ended up being very pissed with how Hubble ate up the entire astrophysics budget at NASA for a decade. They thus hated Hubble, and vowed never to let such a thing happen again. The result was that in the 1990s astronomers built a lot of inexpensive very effective space telescopes that supplemented and complemented Hubble very effectively. And they built them for cost and very efficiently.

    In other words, that generation of scientists learned the lesson. However, the generation of astronomers to follow, in the 2000s, forgot the lesson, or became arrogant, and pushed for Webb, and ended up getting a big project that has eaten the entire astrophysics budget at NASA for two decades.

    Thus, the cycle now repeats. It is my impression that today’s generation of astronomers feels exactly the same as those astronomers in the 1980s: They hate Webb and want it out of the way. And they are determined never to let another big project do this again. Expect to see a lot of smaller, more efficiently-built space telescopes in the 2020s

  • Pzatchok

    NASA, an lifelong employment agency for engineers who couldn’t get hired in the private sector.

    NASA, proving that any 5 year project can be stretched out to 10 years with enough engineers working on it.

    Sarcasm off.

    I too want NASA to play with all the latest cutting edge technology. But there has to be a limit. When its so cutting edge that implementing it might, or is, starting to delay the project its time to drop that tech and work around it.
    If you can’t possibly work around it then take that as a lesson that your reaching too far and should scale back those ambitions.

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