The James Webb Space Telescope, whose total cost is expected to exceed $ 9 billion, will not be launched until May 2020, NASA recently announced.
The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), which is due to succeed Hubble, continues to accumulate delays and additional costs. “The launch window already postponed to June 2019 is now scheduled to take place in May 2020,” NASA announced on Tuesday.
The latest test and integration of the most powerful and complex space telescope ever made is taking longer than expected. Several incidents have enmeshed these crucial procedures to ensure the proper functioning of this extraordinary machine.
Its mirror 6.5 meters in diameter is composed of 18 petals that will open in orbit. A gigantic heat shield, the size of a tennis court, made of five extremely thin and fragile layers, must also unfold unhindered after arriving in its orbit. Furthermore, the telescope will be located 1.5 million kilometers from the Earth, so it will be impossible for astronauts to go there to repair the machine in case of a problem as was the case with the Hubble Space Telescope, orbiting at only a few hundred kilometers.
The JWST will be 100 times more sensitive than its predecessor and will observe in the infrared. This should allow it to observe even more distant objects and to flush out the first galaxies of the universe. The JWST will also allow scientists to make new images of objects of our Solar System and to flush out the weak radiation emitted by the atmospheres of the exoplanets.
NASA already spent $ 7.3 billion on this project. This new delay could add a few hundred million dollars in additional costs. By adding transaction costs, the bill could now exceed $ 9 billion.
Since its launch, the project has steadily accumulated delays and additional costs.
“This is the largest international space science project in American history,” said NASA administrator Robert Lightfoot. NASA has appointed a special committee to oversee the progress of the project and the work of the prime contractor, the American company Northrop Grumman. This Independent Review Board (IRB) will be led by Thomas Young, “a highly respected person at NASA and in this industry,” the agency said in a statement.
The agency must set a more precise launch date in the coming months. The European Space Agency (ESA) will have the heavy responsibility of placing the telescope into orbit using an Ariane 5 rocket, which will be sent from its Kourou space center in French Guiana.