Today, NASA announced that it accepted the findings and recommendations of an independent review of progress toward the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope, intended to be NASA’s next great observatory. As a result of some changed procedures and reigning in some unjustified schedule optimism, the changes will mean that Webb won’t be launched until March of 2021, a delay that will tack on $800 million to the telescope’s $8 billion price tag.
Complexity and errors
The James Webb Space Telescope would be the most complex imaging hardware that NASA has attempted to put into space. It features a large mirror that will be formed by multiple individual segments moving into place and protected by a sunscreen that would also unfold after launch. Webb’s instruments would be sensitive to a region of the infrared that should allow it to image everything from the Universe’s first galaxies to the atmospheres of nearby exoplanets.
But so far, that complexity has driven extensive delays. Early this year, the Government Accountability Office released a report that suggested that further delays were inevitable. And shortly after its release, NASA disclosed that testing of the spacecraft’s unfolding resulted in damage to some of the systems. That set the stage for an independent review board to give the entire project a new look.