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More delays for Webb telescope?

An issue with the fairing release on the last two Ariane 5 launches has not only paused use of that rocket since August 2020, it might cause another delay in the planned October 31, 2021 launch of the James Webb Space Telescope.

In a statement to SpaceNews, Arianespace acknowledged that “post-flight analyses conducted on two recent Ariane 5 launches have indicated the occurrence of a less than fully nominal separation of the fairing, however with no adverse impact on the Ariane 5 flights in question.”

The company did not elaborate on the problem, but industry sources familiar with the issue said that, on both the August 2020 launch and the previous Ariane launch in February 2020, the separation of the faring induced vibrations into the payload stack well above acceptable limits. Neither incident damaged any of the payloads, but raised concerns about the effect on future missions, including JWST.

Moreover, Arianespace has two Ariane 5 launches on its schedule that are supposed to launch before Webb. If those are delayed it puts a further squeeze on the Webb launch date.

Meanwhile, the final checkouts of the Webb telescope have been proceeding, including a successful test of the unfolding of the telescope’s segmented mirror.

After a more than decade of delays and budget overruns — raising this telescope’s budget from 1/2 billion to $10 billion — it appears that Webb’s final schedule delay might occur not because of the telescope but because of the rocket.

In addition, the issue at Arianespace appears to be seriously impacting that company’s ’21 launch schedule, having failed to launch any Ariane 5 rockets so far this year.

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  • Kyle

    $1/2 billion to $10 billion!!! Thats a 2000% increase! Everyone should be fired who was managing this thing.. Think of all the science and engineering we could of got with that kind of cash. They could of bought 2 Hubble Telescopes, or 4 Skylabs, or 4 more Perseverance sized rovers. Not to mention countless future spacecrafts.

  • milt

    At what point will it be possible for SapceX to deploy a manned service / repair mission to JWST? Having waited this long — and possibly even longer — to finally launch it, perhaps we should just hold off putting it into space until it can be backed up with a human servicing capability. (Ditto, developing commercial servicing for the HST.)

    As it has turned out, the JWST has taken so long to build that it has inadvertently slipped into the new era of commercial manned spaceflight. Shouldn’t we take advantage of this by configuring it so that it is *designed* to be serviced in the future?

    Or, after all this, should we just launch the darned thing as-is and “hope for the best?”

  • milt: Many years ago they added a grapple attachment to Webb so that a future repair mission, either robotic or manned, would have the option of grabbing the telescope and possibly doing repairs.

    As designed however I am very doubtful much could be done in space to fix things, though one should never underestimate the ability of humans to innovate.

  • Matt in AZ

    Milt, the Webb telescope is built, and pretty much ready/packaged to be loaded on its launch vehicle at this point. Any new reconfiguring of it would take years of proposals, reviews, approvals, designs, re-approvals, re-assembly, inspections/reviews, re-packaging, and many BILLIONS of dollars more. I just to launch it and be done with it, whatever its fate.

  • Col Beausabre

    I best it launches, if it ever does, on a SpaceX launcher, not Ariane (the epitome of “Big Space” and government }gimme my share” contracting)

  • Jeff Wright

    The thing has more moving parts than a Michael Bey Transformer.
    They should have waited for true HLLVs to come along to allow simpler, more rugged monolithic designs.

  • wayne

    ST: Enterprise
    “Stand by, to deploy the grappler…”

  • Jeff Wright noted: “They should have waited for true HLLVs to come along to allow simpler, more rugged monolithic designs.”

    ‘The perfect is the enemy of the good (or, OK).”

  • A. Nonymous

    Somebody needs to start work on a space telescope with an 8-meter primary. The launcher will be ready long before the satellite is…

  • Craken

    The Simulators are still winding up their new servers and memory banks so Webb will have something new to see.

  • Ray Van Dune

    The JWST will operate at one of the Earth-Sun LaGrange points, millions of miles from Earth. There is only one spaceship currently in development that will be capable of taking a crew to service it, support them there, and bring them back. Why not reconfigure JWST to take that ride too, instead of possibly breaking it, and then sending people to fix it?

  • Edward

    Kyle sees the lost opportunity costs. However, the budget was the astronomy budget, so we didn’t lose space stations or Mars missions, just Hubble Telescopes and other telescopes that were never proposed due to lack of available funds.

    It is too bad that they didn’t see the sunk costs fallacy early on and start over from scratch. Instead they thought that they had too much invested to stop, and they proceeded to more and more costs, at the expense of other telescopes and astronomy projects.

    Jeff Wright suggested: “They should have waited for true HLLVs to come along to allow simpler, more rugged monolithic designs.

    The problem with that philosophy is that there is always a better one coming along any year, so no one would ever get anything done. Instead, it is better to make what you can this time, and build the improved version next time. At least you have data coming in and you are gaining knowledge now rather than some time in the far distant future, when no improvements are anticipated.

    A. Nonymous,
    I agree. There are a lot of ideas, business plans, and proposals that entrepreneurs, companies, and countries should be researching, right now. I don’t expect too many to be finalized until the rocket has proved itself, and the capabilities and price tag are known. Could this happen by the end of this year? I do expect the launch cadence to handle any amount of projects that get funded.

  • Jeff Wright

    But there wasn’t a new one coming along every year. Pre-Musk, Delta II payload shrouds that forced people to fold things up a dozen different ways was the rule…and LV growth stagnated. Ariane 5 was to be a spaceplane launcher for Hermès…and was thought “too large”
    It had about the biggest shroud at the time.

    Saturn IB should have lived…and the narrow Titans should have died. I have seen big shroud concepts. The the Air Force called it too expensive…and yet the Titan IV with a payload cost almost the same as a billion a shot Saturn V. But the USAF kept getting what they wanted while MSFC keeps getting attacked….nothing changes.

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