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James Webb Space Telescope launch pushed to 2021

Space fans waiting for the launch of the Webb Space Telescope – which will be the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope – will have to wait longer.

Artist’s concept of the James Webb Space Telescope, deployed in space, via ESA.

This week, after completion of an independent review, NASA announced a new launch date for the James Webb Space Telescope: March 30, 2021 at the earliest. This telescope is the much-anticipated successor to the Hubble Space Telescope. The announcement comes just three months after an announced launch delay from the year 2019 to 2020. The project – which is led by NASA with its partners, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency – was reviewed internally earlier this year. NASA then established an Independent Review Board to assess the telescope’s progress, in cooperation with ESA and the Canadian Space Agency. In a statement, NASA said:

The board evaluated a number of factors, from the technical challenges to remaining tasks leading to launch, and has unanimously recommended that development on the project should continue.

However, it spoke of:

… a range of factors influencing Webb’s schedule and performance, including the technical challenges and tasks remaining by primary contractor Northrop Grumman before launch.

NASA further explained that it:

… established the new launch date estimate to accommodate changes in the schedule due to environmental testing and work performance challenges by Northrop Grumman on the spacecraft’s sunshield and propulsion system. The telescope’s new total lifecycle cost, to support the revised launch date, is estimated at $9.66 billion; its new development cost estimate is $8.8 billion.

Read the full report and NASA’s response here

NASA said the next step is now:

… to complete the extensive battery of testing on the spacecraft element of the Webb. Once this is done, it will be integrated with the other half of the observatory: the telescope and science instrument module. This module, which completed its tests last year, includes the NIRSpec and MIRI instruments – part of Europe’s contribution to the observatory.

The fully-assembled observatory then will undergo a series of challenging environmental tests and a final deployment test before it is shipped to Europe’s spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, to be launched on an Ariane 5 rocket.

Read more about the Webb Telescope’s 2021 launch from ESA

Read more about the Webb Telescope’s 2021 launch from NASA

Bottom line: Sigh. The James Webb Space Telescope is now scheduled for launch in 2021.

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Deborah Byrd

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