Webb faces more delays, cost overruns

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A new GAO report released yesterday says that the James Webb Space Telescope faces further delays and cost overruns.

This is par for the course. Webb has become an incredible boondoggle. I hope it eventually gets launched and works, but its gigantic cost, $8 to $9 billion (compared to an original $1 billion budget), and delayed schedule suggests that this was not the right way for NASA or the astronomical community to build its space telescopes. Further, this quote from the story suggests something fundamentally wrong:

The GAO report also noted that, during the sunshield deployment exercises, Northrop discovered several tears in the material which it attributed to “workmanship error.” Those tears can be repaired but may consume more schedule reserve.

Is this thing really going to work? I really hope so, but have been increasingly doubtful as the delays and problems have piled up.

Meanwhile, NASA and the astronomical community is still pushing to get funding for its next “Webb,” the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST). This project, similar in scope as Webb, is hardly off the ground and already has budget overrun issues. The Trump administration recommended cancelling in its budget proposal earlier this month, but I would be surprised if that recommendation goes through, considering the pork this new project represents.



  • Localfluff

    And it was the deployment of the Sun shield that failed (April last year?). If the mirror unfolding got stuck, it is at least theoretically possible to send some kind of helping spacecraft to help it out. Or maybe even use it partially unfolded. But this is especially serious since without the Sun screen deploying in time, the hyper sensitive infrared instruments would soon overheat and be destroyed.

    Everyone who has seen the deployment procedure cartoon of the JWST immediately worries that maybe something could get stuck in that elaborate process. No no, nothing can get stuck, everyone with a title said. Then now in the last test, something got stuck! And in a lab with totally controlled environment.

    And they are working three shifts now at full capacity to make the spacecraft work. I hope that doesn’t induce any sloppiness and shortcuts under pressure. They make me worry. I really want to see the first stars that ever lit up our universe.

  • Localfluff

    If this mirror breaks, there will be no wiping up of the “tears” during the seven years of bad luck that follows. In space, no one can hear the astronomer cry.

    I think it might be a good thing that they canceled WFIRST. That spy mirror donated will certainly be used by NASA anyway. It is an infrared wide field mirror, so that’s what it will do. But maybe in a better managed mission than the first WFIRST proposal, that might’ve collected too much fat already in the blue prints.

  • Jason Hillyer

    This project reminds me of SLS, but at least with that we have SpaceX to count on, so does anyone see a viable commercial company taking over a project of this size and doing it the right way?

  • Edward

    Jason Hillyer asked: “does anyone see a viable commercial company taking over a project of this size and doing it the right way?

    Does this project have to be this size?

    And yes, I do see a viable commercial company taking on a project of this size and larger: SpaceX took on a very heavy lift launch vehicle and spent significantly less than government programs on similar or even smaller launch vehicles.

    I am not sure that JWST was designed in the most cost effective way, and it certainly was not executed well, as the GAO has reported in recent years. There were political motivations to make it an international project, and that had some consequences when the European cryocooler did not make schedule.

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