James Webb Space Telescope delayed again, with budget rising

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Based the conclusions [pdf] of an Independent Review Board (IRB), NASA has once again delayed the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope, now set for 2021, while increasing its construction budget from $8 billion to almost $9 billion.

In its report, the IRB found that technical issues, including human errors, have greatly impacted the development schedule.

The agency previously had estimated an earlier launch date, but awaited findings from the IRB before making a final determination and considered data from Webb’s Standing Review Board. The agency established the new launch date estimate [March 30, 2021] to accommodate changes in the schedule due to environmental testing and work performance challenges by Northrop Grumman on the spacecraft’s sunshield and propulsion system. The telescope’s new total lifecycle cost, to support the revised launch date, is estimated at $9.66 billion; its new development cost estimate is $8.8 billion.

It is important to remember that Webb was originally supposed to cost $1 billion, and launch in 2011. It is now a decade behind schedule, with a cost almost ten times higher.

It really does appear like SLS and Webb are in a race to see who can get launched last. And right now, the race is neck and neck.

I should add that if the launch gets delayed much more, NASA will have further problems with the launch rocket. The Ariane 5 rocket, designated as the launch vehicle, is being retired around 2021. Beyond that date there might be problems using one.



  • Edward


  • Michael G.Gallagher

    Each Falcon 9 launch now costs $62 million. Divide $10 billion by 62 million and you can do 161 Falcon 9 launches.

  • Localfluff

    @Michael G.Gallagher
    It’s hard to stay up to date:
    “Musk said SpaceX lowered prices from “about $60 million to about $50 million for a reflown booster”

    It certainly would’ve helped the design of this parasol thing if mass wasn’t an issue. If a large space telescope was built by docking separately launched modules, like the ISS was built. $50 million is half of a percent of the cost of JWST. The way to take advantage of it is to use many launches to allow for clunkier payloads. Falcon 9’s weakness is its fairing size.

  • Michael G. Gallagher: You probably have to do the math using the Falcon Heavy, since I think the Falcon 9 probably isn’t powerful enough. Even so, in this case the comparison is inappropriate, because one is a rocket and the other is a space telescope.

    A true comparison would be a privately built orbiting telescope. We don’t have that — yet. When we do, I guarantee it will be cheaper and will get built faster.

  • Edward

    Robert Zimmerman wrote: “A true comparison would be a privately built orbiting telescope. We don’t have that — yet. When we do, I guarantee it will be cheaper and will get built faster.

    Although we do not yet have any privately built orbiting astronomical telescopes, in the past couple of decades several Earth observing satellites with telescopes have been put into orbit for profit. These have been cheaper and faster than the military spy satellites, and so successful that there are constellations starting to go up in order to get daily photographs of each location on Earth. There are plans to put up constellations that get more than daily photographs.

    Not only can privately built telescopes cost less and go up faster, they can do more.

    Michael G.Gallagher,
    I think that the real question is whether we will get our money’s worth from JWST.

    There are $8 Billion worth of other telescopes, probes, and satellites that could have done a lot of other exploration and investigation, had JWST come in on budget and on time, but they will have to wait for future budgets. Come to think of it, there are $8 billion worth of less urgent (although still important) projects that will never be started, because the money went to JWST. Will JWST do more to enhance our knowledge of the universe than those other projects, and is it worth the delay of the knowledge that we will eventually learn?

    JWST once had the opportunity to be more cost effective than Hubble, but now it will have to out perform Hubble in order to be as cost effective.

    I have a great sadness for the opportunities lost due to the poor management of NASA’s limited resources; they could do so much more with what they have. NASA has a lot of good, smart, talented people whose skills and knowledge are squandered when they are not directed as effectively and efficiently as they should be.

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