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NASA's Launch Of Webb Space Telescope Is Pushed Back To 2021 As It Gets Delayed Again

Jun 27, 2018 09:47 PM EDT
NASA's James Webb Space Telescope
An artist's rendering of the James Webb Telescope, which is set to launch on March 30, 2021.
(Photo : Northrop Grumman/NASA | Flickr)

The launch of NASA's James Webb Space Telescope gets pushed back to March 30, 2021, serving a huge blow to the agency's flagship project.

It is the third time the next-generation space observatory has been delayed.

Webb Space Telescope Delayed

An independent review board recommended the delay, citing technical issues and human errors, disproportionate optimism, and the spacecraft's complexity to have impacted the later launch date.

"Webb should continue based on its extraordinary scientific potential and critical role in maintaining U.S. leadership in astronomy and astrophysics," Tom Young, chair of the review board, says in a statement. "Ensuring every element of Webb functions properly before it gets to space is critical to its success."

For most of its development, the Webb Space Telescope was scheduled to take off for orbit this fall, Space notes. This delay is only the latest in a series of postponements that began in September 2017, when NASA pushed back the launch date to 2019. Months later on March, it was announced that the schedule will be pushed back to 2020. Now, it's revealed that the telescope will take three more years to get ready.

To accommodate the new launch date, the development cost has also been amended $8.8 billion. With Congress implementing a strict budget cap of $8 billion back in 2010, the development of Webb Space Telescope will have to be reauthorized by lawmakers, New York Times reports. This could come at the expense of other space-related missions.

The total lifestyle cost is now estimated at $9.66 billion.

NASA's Statement

On Wednesday, June 27, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine addressed the NASA workforce in a video that underlined the agency's commitment to seeing through the Webb Telescope.

"[The Webb Space Telescope] is vitally needed to perform the next generation of research beyond the Hubble Space Telescope," he says. "It is going to do amazing things — things we've never been able to do before — as we peer into other galaxies and see light from the very dawn of time."

Bridenstine says both the review board and NASA unanimously agree that the mission will be successful with the implementation of the suggestions, especially since many of them are already underway.

The Telescope And Its Many Troubles

The James Webb Space Telescope is the first of its kind, expected to be capable of detecting light of the first stars and galaxies from the distant universe.

The cutting-edge space observatory will be folded like an origami for its launch, then it will undergo a series of complicated deployments on its way to its final orbit a million miles away from Earth. It is the most ambitious, complex hardware that NASA has ever attempted to deploy.

However, the sheer intricacy of the Webb Space Telescope has led to numerous mishaps. As the review board highlighted, several human errors have played a huge role in the delay, particularly on the end of Northrop Grumman who is building the telescope, according to Ars Technica.

A few incidents include incorrect solvent being used to clean the valves and test wiring installed improperly. Several fasteners were also discovered to be insufficiently tight, which resulted in more than a dozen coming loose and getting into the body of the spacecraft. Two of the fasteners are still missing.

The independent review board put forth a total of 32 recommendations to minimize the errors and delays moving forward.

Photo: Northrop Grumman/NASA | Flickr

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