Webb Space Telescope delayed again


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NASA announced today that they are further delaying the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope from October 2018 to late spring 2019.

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope now is planning to launch between March and June 2019 from French Guiana, following a schedule assessment of the remaining integration and test activities. Previously Webb was targeted to launch in October 2018. “The change in launch timing is not indicative of hardware or technical performance concerns,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at Headquarters in Washington. “Rather, the integration of the various spacecraft elements is taking longer than expected.”

As part of an international agreement with the ESA (European Space Agency) to provide a desired launch window one year prior to launch, NASA recently performed a routine schedule assessment to ensure launch preparedness and determined a launch schedule change was necessary. The careful analysis took into account the remaining tasks that needed to be completed, the lessons learned from unique environmental testing of the telescope and science instruments at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and the current performance rates of integrating the spacecraft element.

Webb’s original launch date was supposed to be 2011, making its launch now verging on a decade late. The original budget for the telescope was supposed to be $1 billion. It is now expected to cost more than $9 billion. Like SLS/Orion, this project more resembles feather-bedding, providing NASA employees and the contractors involved a steady paycheck, regardless of whether they ever get anything done. In fact, both Webb and SLS/Orion seemed designed to encourage failure. The project never gets cancelled no matter what goes wrong. Instead, more money gets poured in.

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12 comments

  • LocalFluff

    Just a few weeks ago the news was out that the (looong) delay of ESA’s and JAXA’s Bepi Colombo mission, in order to use the October 2018 launch window to Mercury, makes it coincide with the planned JWST launch. Both using Ariane 5. Maybe the one who could take more advantage of it yielded the slot. Or they just don’t want to argue in public about it and getting blamed for delaying the other.

  • Mitch S

    I’m more forgiving when it comes to delays regarding Webb.
    Because at least Webb will do (well, supposed to do) stuff nothing else can it can advance human knowledge.
    And NASA should be cautious and do extra testing – unlike with Hubble, there is no second chance to fix Webb.

    Interesting theory about the launch conflict. I didn’t know Webb was going up on an Ariane. Surprised NASA and congress let it go up on a non-US rocket. I suppose there was no US alternative.

  • Mitch S: The deal with ESA was that Europe provides the launch in exchange for a guaranteed amount of time using Webb. This is a variation with what was done with Hubble, whereby ESA provided one instrument and solar panels in exchange for 15% of the observation time.

  • LocalFluff

    Mitch S
    Yeah, and after having flown it to California for testing, the JWST will go by ship through Panama to Guyana. But Ariane 5 is the safest rocket ever. 80 successful launches in a row now. No failure since 2002. Although they ship the launchers across the Atlantic to the jungle. Modern logistics comes up with surprising solutions.

  • Steve C

    As I recall, the Hubble’s ESA solar panels had to be replaced because they were vibrating and messing up observations.

  • Steve C: Your memory is correct about ESA’s solar panels. They were essentially a bad design.

  • Chris

    Didn’t Hubble have to be “corrected” because the prescription was “off” due to incorrect mirror shape? The surface was impeccably smooth but the shape was off. I remember this being a thought that the testing was not correct for the earth, where manufacture and testing cycles occur vs the weightless environment of space I thought a mission was sent to correct this. I remember this as I was working at a company that has just gone through how to do this testing (earth testing for a weightless environment) on a different space based telescope. I don’t have any of these details as I was a very young “sparky’ (EE) on the project.

  • wayne

    Chris–
    Mr. Z. wrote a nice book on the Hubble, which I would recommend.

    The mirror was ground perfectly, but was ground-perfectly to the wrong specs, due to a comedy of errors, as-it-were.
    This specific situation was not related to gravity vs. no-gravity.

  • Mitch S

    It was the Hubble mirror debacle that I had in mind when commenting that there are no second chances with Webb.
    Wayne, thanks for reminding me about RZ’s book, I meant to get that a while ago, always been curious about the real story of Hubble and it’s trouble.

    RZ, Localfluff, thanks for the info. I now vaguely recall hearing about that launch arrangement.
    Such agreements seem like a good thing to me (even if ESA supplied some shaky solar panels!).
    If Webb is packed to survive launch vibration, hopefully it’ll be good during shipping (I assume the’ll slap a “fragile, handle with care” label on the crate!)

  • wayne

    Mitch S–
    while you contemplate buying the book…

    ->A video presentation by Mr. Z.:

    “The Hubble Space Telescope and the Visionaries Who Built It”
    WGBH Forum
    https://youtu.be/5mNJAf83YTs
    (1:24:20)

  • wayne

    Might as well link to this as well:

    Robert Zimmerman –
    “The Future of Space Exploration & Apollo 8”
    The Moore Show (circa 2013)
    https://youtu.be/jSMnjT-OuJA
    (56:12)

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