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.
which will happen first:
? George RR Martin finishes A Song of Ice and Fire
? The James Webb Space Telescope launch
? we crumble to dust as the oceans boil around and the sun expands, overtaking Mercury and Venus and reducing Earth's orbit until we too are swallowed
— Erin Ross (@ErinEARoss) June 27, 2018
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.
— Alan Boyle (@b0yle) June 27, 2018
Bottom line: Sigh. The James Webb Space Telescope is now scheduled for launch in 2021.
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and founded EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.