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posted by Fnord666 on Monday October 02, @02:05AM   Printer-friendly
from the testing-integration dept.

The launch of the James Webb Space Telescope has been delayed yet again:

The launch of NASA's James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has been rescheduled to occur sometime between March and June 2019 from French Guiana. The delay follows a schedule assessment of the remaining integration and test activities that need to occur prior to launch. The JWST was previously scheduled to launch in October 2018. "The change in launch timing is not indicative of hardware or technical performance concerns," Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate at Headquarters in Washington, said in a NASA press release. "Rather, the integration of the various spacecraft elements is taking longer than expected."

The change in launch window request has been coordinated with the European Space Agency (ESA), which is providing the Ariane 5 launch vehicle for the JWST. As part of an agreement with ESA, NASA recently conducted a routine schedule assessment to ensure launch preparedness and determined that a reschedule was necessary.

While testing of the telescope and science instruments at NASA's Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, Texas, continues to go well and remain on schedule, the spacecraft itself, made up of the spacecraft bus and sunshield, has experienced delays during its integration and testing at Northrop Grumman in Redondo Beach, California. "Webb's spacecraft and sunshield are larger and more complex than most spacecraft," said Eric Smith, program director for the James Webb Space Telescope at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "The combination of some integration activities taking longer than initially planned, such as the installation of more than 100 sunshield membrane release devices, factoring in lessons learned from earlier testing, like longer time spans for vibration testing, has meant the integration and testing process is just taking longer. Considering the investment NASA has made, and the good performance to date, we want to proceed very systematically through these tests to be ready for a Spring 2019 launch."

An upside? A better chance of being prepared to image Planet Nine during the 5-10 year operating life of JWST.

Also at NASA.

Original Submission

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WFIRST Space Observatory Could be Scaled Back Due to Costs 9 comments

The Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) may have some of its capabilities scaled back due to overspending on the James Webb Space Telescope and the added cost of a coronagraph that was demanded by exoplanet researchers:

NASA will have to scale back its next big orbiting observatory to avoid busting its budget and affecting other missions, an independent panel says. The Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) is due for launch in the mid-2020s. But 1 year after NASA gave the greenlight its projected cost is $3.6 billion, roughly 12% overbudget. "I believe reductions in scope and complexity are needed," Thomas Zurbuchen, head of NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington, D.C., wrote in a memo that NASA released last Thursday.

Designed to investigate the nature of dark energy and study exoplanets, WFIRST was chosen by the astronomy community as its top space-based mission priority in the 2010 decadal survey entitled New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics. But the start of the project was initially delayed by the huge overspend on its predecessor, the James Webb Space Telescope, which will be launched in 2019. Then last year, a midterm review of the 2010 decadal survey warned that WFIRST could go the same way and advised NASA to form a panel of independent experts to review the project.

[...] Zurbuchen's memo to Scolese directs the lab to retain the basic elements of the mission—the 2.4-meter mirror, widefield camera, and coronagraph—but to seek cost-saving "reductions." Hertz says this will require reducing the capabilities of instruments but ensuring they remain "above the science floor laid down by the decadal survey." The coronagraph will be recategorized as a "technology demonstration instrument," removing the burden of achieving a scientific target. The change will also save money, Hertz explains. Hertz says exoplanet researchers shouldn't worry about the proposed changes. "We know we'll get good science out of the coronagraph. We'll be able to see debris disks, zodiacal dust, and exoplanets in wide orbits," he says. Astronomers wanting to see Earth twins in the habitable zone may be disappointed, however.

Original Submission

Launch of James Webb Space Telescope Could be Further Delayed 33 comments

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) is warning of possible further delays to the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST):

A government watchdog is warning that the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), the long-awaited successor to the Hubble that's been beset by schedule snafus and cost overruns, might face further delays. NASA announced in September it had pushed back the launch date of the JWST from late 2018 to some time in the spring of 2019 due to testing delays partly blamed on Hurricane Harvey's impact on Texas' Gulf Coast in August.

On Wednesday, lawmakers on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee were told it could take even longer to launch the world's most powerful telescope. "More delays are possible given the risks associated with the work ahead and the level of schedule reserves that are now (below) what's recommended," said Cristina Chaplain, director of Acquisition and Sourcing Management for the Government Accountability Office.

[...] Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA's associate administrator for science missions, told lawmakers he expects the space agency will be able to meet the spring 2019 schedule. "I believe it's achievable," he said.

Previously: James Webb Space Telescope Vibration Testing Completed
Launch of James Webb Space Telescope Delayed to Spring 2019

Related: Maiden Flight of the Space Launch System Delayed to 2019
NASA Unlikely to Have Enough Plutonium-238 for Missions by the Mid-2020s
WFIRST Space Observatory Could be Scaled Back Due to Costs

Original Submission

JWST: Too Big to Fail? 85 comments

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), an infrared space observatory with an $8.8 billion budget, will be transported to South America to launch atop an Ariane 5 rocket, presumably in Spring 2019. The JWST was not intended to be serviceable at the Earth-Sun L2 point. Will there still be a "Golden Age of astronomy" even if the JWST fails?

[Due] to its steadily escalating cost and continually delayed send-off (which recently slipped from 2018 to 2019), this telescopic time machine is now under increasingly intense congressional scrutiny. To help satisfy any doubts about JWST's status, the project is headed for an independent review as soon as January 2018, advised NASA's science chief Thomas Zurbuchen during an early December congressional hearing. Pressed by legislators about whether JWST will actually launch as presently planned in spring of 2019, he said, "at this moment in time, with the information that I have, I believe it's achievable."

[...] Simply launching JWST is fraught with peril, not to mention unfurling its delicate sunshield and vast, segmented mirror in deep space. Just waving goodbye to JWST atop its booster will be a nail-biter. "The truth is, every single rocket launch off of planet Earth is risky. The good news is that the Ariane 5 has a spectacular record," says former astronaut John Grunsfeld, a repeat "Hubble hugger" who made three space-shuttle visits to low-Earth orbit to renovate that iconic facility. Now scientist emeritus at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, he sees an on-duty JWST as cranking out science "beyond all of our expectations."

"Assuming we make it to the injection trajectory to Earth-Sun L2, of course the next most risky thing is deploying the telescope. And unlike Hubble we can't go out and fix it. Not even a robot can go out and fix it. So we're taking a great risk, but for great reward," Grunsfeld says.

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  • (Score: 1) by rylyeh on Monday October 02, @04:54AM (6 children)

    by rylyeh (6726) Subscriber Badge <> on Monday October 02, @04:54AM (#575762)


    Of course, this all must be done properly but just - Damm!

    don’t tell nobody, but I swar ter Gawd thet picter begun ta make me hungry fer victuals I couldn’t raise nor buy—
    • (Score: 2) by takyon on Monday October 02, @05:06AM

      by takyon (881) <> on Monday October 02, @05:06AM (#575768) Journal

      It's a blow.

      At least there is no way to delay the Jan. 1, 2019 New Horizons flyby of 2014 MU69 [].

      [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 []
    • (Score: 4, Interesting) by julian on Monday October 02, @06:36AM (4 children)

      by julian (6003) on Monday October 02, @06:36AM (#575784)

      Ariane 5 has a 95.7% success rate. That's pretty good for rocket launches, but the James Webb has been in development since 1996. That's a long time to spend on something that could go BOOM 1/20 times.

      I am glad that they are minimizing the problems they can control. We don't want any extra problems added to the Ariane 5 launch risk.

      JWST should be a revolution in astronomy. I'm very excited for the decade of science beginning in 2020. With the new Hawaiian 30-meter telescope finally moving forward we should be learning some amazing things in the first half of the 21st century.

      • (Score: 3, Interesting) by aiwarrior on Monday October 02, @07:19AM

        by aiwarrior (1812) on Monday October 02, @07:19AM (#575793)

        While i agree with you, I also think that a lot of the time spent is one-time effort, which in case of a boom, would not need to be repeated. Of course it would delay perhaps 1 or 2 years but it would not start all over again.

        Regardless, go go James Webb

      • (Score: 2) by acid andy on Monday October 02, @11:24AM (2 children)

        by acid andy (1683) on Monday October 02, @11:24AM (#575855)

        Shame they couldn't afford to build two of everything. That way they'd have a backup.

        Make hay whilst the intervening mass is insufficient to inhibit the perceived intensity of incoming solar radiation.
        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 02, @12:53PM (1 child)

          by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 02, @12:53PM (#575874)

          First rule of government spending: why buy one when you can have two for twice the price?

          Otoh, in that movie, having two for twice the price saved the day.

          • (Score: 2) by acid andy on Monday October 02, @01:13PM

            by acid andy (1683) on Monday October 02, @01:13PM (#575878)

            Otoh, in that movie, having two for twice the price saved the day.

            Yeah, I guess that's partly what I was thinking of.

            Make hay whilst the intervening mass is insufficient to inhibit the perceived intensity of incoming solar radiation.
  • (Score: 2) by bob_super on Monday October 02, @07:10PM (1 child)

    by bob_super (1357) on Monday October 02, @07:10PM (#576099)

    I know that we need it supercooled for the infrared science we need, and away from the planet and the infrared it radiates.
    But dang, that seems like such a shame to spend so much time and money building such a cool toy, and not have a way to refuel the coolant, or switch it to visible afterwards.

    A lot of spacecrafts don't even do science for 5 years for sure, but we're Hubblespoiled.

    • (Score: 2) by takyon on Monday October 02, @07:37PM

      by takyon (881) <> on Monday October 02, @07:37PM (#576128) Journal

      Unclear (to me):

      • While JWST was not designed to be easily serviced by astronauts or robotic craft, and is much further away than Hubble, could it still be serviced by either method if we chose to do so?
      • Will JWST be permanently damaged once coolant runs out? ie. If we refill the coolant, propellant, and replace batteries in 20 years, will it still be unusable?
      • Would the JWST's eventual drift from the L2 point once it runs out of propellant permanently prevent the craft from being useful or reachable?
      • Can JWST operate in the near-infrared even after coolant runs out?
      • Is the 5-10 year lifetime estimate yet another conservative NASA estimate? Example: the Opportunity rover has lasted over 13 years instead of 90 days. []

      However, infrared telescopes have an Achilles heel—they need to stay extremely cold, and the longer the wavelength of infrared, the colder they need to be.[45] If not, the background heat of the device itself overwhelms the detectors, making it effectively blind.[45] This can be overcome by careful spacecraft design, in particular by placing the telescope in dewar with an extremely cold substance, such as liquid helium.[45] This has meant most infrared telescopes have a lifespan limited by their coolant, as short as a few months, maybe a few years at most.[45] It has been possible to maintain a temperature low enough through the design of the spacecraft to enable near-infrared observations without a supply of coolant, such as the extended missions of Spitzer or NEOWISE. Another example is Hubble's NICMOS instrument, which started out using a block of nitrogen ice that depleted after a couple years, but was then converted to a cryocooler that worked continuously. The James Webb Space Telescope is designed to cool itself without a dewar, using a combination of sun-shield and radiators with the mid-infrared instrument using an additional cryocooler.[46]

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