NASA's Webb Mission Pushed Back to 2020

Greg Lawrence
March 29, 2018

If Congress does not authorize the mission 18 months after receiving those reports, NASA would not be allowed to spend any more money on it other than termination costs. However, recent findings from the project's Standing Review Board (SRB) indicate more time is needed to test and integrate these components together and then perform environmental testing at Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems in Redondo Beach, Calif., the project's observatory contractor. Tests of some of the spacecraft's main components, particularly the tennis-court-size sun shield, have taken longer than expected.

Associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Thomas Zurbuchen stated that, "Considering the investment NASA and our global partners have made, we want to proceed systematically through these last tests, with the additional time necessary, to be ready for a May 2020 launch".

Artist's conception of the James Webb Space Telescope. The agency had aimed to spend more on WFIRST in the coming years as its contributions to JWST shrank, trading off the end of one mission's development for the beginning of another.

The delay will have ramifications beyond the JWST team. Last month, President Donald Trump proposed cancelling WFIRST; astronomers protested, and Congress has restored it for now with a $150-million injection of funds.

Acting Nasa Administrator Robert Lightfoot called the Webb project "the highest priority project for the agency's Science Mission Directorate, and the largest global space science project in U.S. history".

When it is launched in 2020, it will be the world's biggest and most powerful telescope, capable of peering back 200 million years after the Big Bang.

Since 2011, JWST was on track for its possible launch in 2018, but when the project moved into integration and testing, things got complicated. NASA is now establishing an external review board to be chaired by Tom Young, a former agency and Lockheed Martin official, to oversee the program's future progress.

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This 2015 illustration provided by Northrop Grumman via NASA shows the James Webb Space Telescope.

Nevertheless, the telescope already has its primary mirror and other required instruments completed.

According to a report, Northrop Grumman had people working on building the telescope 24 hours a day. During testing, the sunshield developed a couple of very small tears which have since been fixed, Zurbachen said. Furthermore, the telescope will be located 1.5 million kilometers from the Earth, so it will be impossible for astronauts to go there to fix the machine in case of a problem as was the case with the Hubble Space Telescope, orbiting at only a few hundred kilometers. However, NASA now says it needs more time to test the telescope before sending it into space. Among the many celestial phenomena that it aims to explore are the first stars and galaxies to form in the Universe, as well as planets in and beyond the Solar System.

NASA will also work with its partner European Space Agency (ESA) to give a launch date for the Ariane 5 vehicle, which will launch the James Webb into space.

Well, still now NASA has not evaluated the extra cost which the agency can face this delay.

WFIRST recently underwent a cost-cutting exercise following its own independent review. NASA will certainly track everyday and also regular examination records, as well as authorities from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland will certainly revolve right into the center in California to assist supervise combination and also screening.

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