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Because of a scheduling conflict with a European mission to Mercury Arianespace might delay its launch of the American James Webb Space Telescope to 2019.
A time-sensitive mission to explore the planet Mercury, already delayed several times, may force the European Space Agency (ESA) and Arianespace to push back the launch of NASA’s multi-billion dollar James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) into early 2019. The mission, named BepiColombo, is currently scheduled to launch on the same rocket, the Ariane 5, from the same spaceport in French Guiana, during the same timeframe that the JWST is scheduled to launch (October 2018).
A launch delay to BepiColumbo won’t impact the science of the ESA/Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) mission, but it would translate to a longer journey to Mercury. The last launch delay, which pushed it from April 2018 to October 2018, also translated to a year longer voyage to reach Mercury, now expected to arrive in 2025 instead of 2024.
This is a perfect illustration of the difference between governments and private enterprise. Government-owned Arianespace has been flying its Ariane 5 rockets now for almost two decades, but they have not yet learned how to launch two rockets in one month, and don’t appear interested in trying. Meanwhile, private companies like SpaceX and ULA are both working to achieve a normal twice-a-month launch rate, with SpaceX likely to beat that in the next few years.