Published: Thu, March 29, 2018
Research | By Clarence Powell

NASA delays JWST launch to 2020

NASA delays JWST launch to 2020

It's a good thing the Hubble Space Telescope has managed to keep on bringing us deep space imagery well beyond its expected lifespan, because its successor is taking its sweet time in getting ready to relieve it of duty.

NASA has been planning to launch a powerful new telescope that can see across the universe and perhaps to the beginning of time for many years now.

That was then. On Tuesday, senior officials at NASA announced yet another delay for the world-class instrument. Additional partners include Orbital ATK, NASA's Ames Research Center, the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and the Space Telescope Science Institute.

The telescope is already over the mission's hard budget cap of $8 billion. With the telescope's launch so close even despite the delay, it's likely just another-and maybe the last-in a long string of delays and budget increases for the project that have been going on since 1996. Once in space, it can not be repaired.

Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, added: "Considering the investment NASA and our worldwide 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".

To get Webb to the finish line, nasa seems to have decided it has to get more involved in its contractor's operations than ever before. Webb is an global project led by NASA with its partners, ESA (European Space Agency), and CSA (Canadian Space Agency).

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Its mirror 6.5 meters in diameter is composed of 18 petals that will open in orbit. This part has held up well under various tests so far.

The enormous space observatory is made in two halves where the first is the telescope itself and another halve is a complication and huge sun shield that will protect the four science instruments and the entire observatory from the radiation and another host of damages from the Sun.

"It's really a tremendous feat of human engineering, and it's going to leave a legacy exceptional science and technical innovation for decades", said Robert Lightfoot, NASA's acting administrator.

Additionally, "largely in the propulsion system, we've had a routine hold-up as a result of a transducer that was improperly powered; we had to change that". Several tears across all five layers occurred during folding and deployment of the sunshield during testing. Engineers will then combine the two modules and test the fully assembled observatory and verify that all components work together properly. "If we breach the 8 billion expense that was set out in the legislative appropriations, the job will certainly should be reauthorized by Congress". The agency expects to provide a confirmed schedule and cost estimate this summer.

Such features have a price and the USA space agency warned on Tuesday that "once the precise launch date has been determined, NASA will provide an estimate of development costs that are likely to exceed the $ 8 billion forecast". Lightfoot added that although all the flight hardware has been completed, some of the components took longer than expected. But it does not seem like a slam dunk, especially with the retirement of US Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-M.D.), a champion of the telescope, in early 2017. And in his most recent budget request, President Donald Trump proposed scrapping the mission (for now, Congress has made a decision to keep funding it).

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