Webb Space Telescope Launch Delayed One Year, to 2020

NASA delays JWST launch to 2020

NASA said it is also establishing an external Independent Review Board (IRB), chaired by Thomas Young, a highly respected NASA and industry veteran who is often called on to chair advisory committees and analyse organisational and technical issues.

USA space agency officials now say the construction bill could exceed the cap.

That was then. On Tuesday, senior officials at NASA announced yet another delay for the world-class instrument. Now, the JWST delay risks compounding problems for WFIRST.

Among the problems described by Dennis Andrucyk, deputy associate administrator in NASA's science mission directorate, include contamination of values in thrusters on the spacecraft bus, a problem identified last summer. This orbit - which no spacecraft has ever employed before - is incredibly stable, allowing TESS to stay aloft for decades without performing any engine burns, mission officials have said. Deploying and then stowing the sunshield took about twice as long as original expected, with two more "deploy and stow" operations yet to take place. This board's findings will help to solidify the need for additional testing, as well as help to lay out the final plan for integration, testing, commissioning, and spacecraft deployment.

But those delays, engineers stress, are necessary to ensure the massive telescope will work as expected - as needed - the first time. "We were rather optimistic in how we projected an [integration and testing] schedule", said Andrucyk.

Back in 2011, politicians on Capitol Hill said the observatory should not take more than $8bn to build and $800m to operate over five years in orbit.

"All the observatory's flight hardware is now complete, however, the issues brought to light with the spacecraft element are prompting us to take the necessary steps to refocus our efforts on the completion of this ambitious and complex observatory", Robert Lightfoot, acting NASA administrator, said in a statement published Tuesday. Included in the assessment will be any cost estimates that go above and beyond the current $8 billion cap.

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NASA has substantially completed all of the hardware for the Webb project, which remains in two pieces before final assembly.

After the successful test performance of the observatory's telescope and science payload, including the NIRSpec and MIRI instruments that form part of ESA's participation, in 2017 at NASA's Johnson Space Flight Center in Houston, the telescope module was delivered to Northrop Grumman earlier this year, where it is now housed together with the spacecraft module.

According to a report, Northrop Grumman had people working on building the telescope 24 hours a day.

Webb is an global project led by NASA with its partners, ESA and the Canadian Space Agency.

The delay will affect NASA's astrophysics budget more broadly, including its next big planned space observatory, the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST). The observatory was supposed to launch between March and June of 2019.

He noted that JWST is far more technically complex that WFIRST, which uses an optical system donated by the National Reconnaissance Office and without major deployable systems like the sunshield. "We're not going to be in a situation where 10 miracles are required" technologically, as happened with the JWST, he said.

The delay in JWST's launch will also delay the science it will produce.

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