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posted by Fnord666 on Wednesday October 25, @10:19PM   Printer-friendly
from the no-actual-scientific-target-needed dept.

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

Related Stories

Launch of James Webb Space Telescope Delayed to Spring 2019 9 comments

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

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


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  • (Score: 2) by bob_super on Wednesday October 25, @11:15PM (8 children)

    by bob_super (1357) on Wednesday October 25, @11:15PM (#587608)

    I'm sorry, I didn't catch the final number. Was that an extra $50000000000 or $150000000000 per year, which was readily found for the Pentagon ?

    • (Score: 2) by qzm on Wednesday October 25, @11:23PM (4 children)

      by qzm (3260) on Wednesday October 25, @11:23PM (#587611)

      More to the point, its not cheap to orbit Pork.
      Seriously, anyone who thinks it actually costs 3.6 billion to achieve this outcome isnt looking at the process.

      The fact is these days EVERYTHING NASA does it done by contractors at cost+guaranteed %age.
      Therefore they do their very very best to maximise cost, since that maximises profit.

      I suggest that if you asked private concerns what it would cost in yearly rent to have access to this instrument, the
      cost would be much MUCH lower, and they would probably be fighting each other to launch it ASAP.

      but no, pork must be spread around..
      I know people will jump all over me (as they always do) for even suggesting this, because NASA can do no wrong (I can
      only assume this is because they somehow think its startrek related) however think about it before jerking that knee -
      what we need is a healthy, strong NASA, not one bogged down in stupid contracts and internal red take that all works to
      maximise costs while minimising delivery - that is what we have today.

      • (Score: 3, Interesting) by takyon on Thursday October 26, @12:06AM

        by takyon (881) <{takyon} {at} {soylentnews.org}> on Thursday October 26, @12:06AM (#587628) Journal

        http://nasawatch.com/archives/2016/04/why-sls-has-alw.html [nasawatch.com]
        http://time.com/4376888/europa-jupiter-space-nasa/ [time.com]

        ^ Is NASA to blame, or Congress?

        We have seen improvements at NASA. SpaceX has achieved a lot with NASA funding - much less than has been blown on the Space Launch System (SLS). Falcon Heavy and BFR may eclipse the SLS's capabilities. Reusability is already lowering the launch costs for customers, to include the Air Force soon.

        NASA has launched lower cost Discovery class programs [wikipedia.org] since 1996. Two recent ones are Dawn and Kepler, both of which cost less than a $billion. Dawn has characterized Ceres, easily the most important dwarf planet we know of. I would say the Kepler observatory has had a bigger impact than any space telescope since Hubble, with its discovery of thousands of exoplanets. Now we have private [soylentnews.org] money [soylentnews.org] being spent on exoplanet-related missions.

        If U.S. ISS funding is canned in 2028, and no money was spent on manned missions to the Moon and Mars, NASA could launch even more telescopes. But unless a miracle happens, we will be forced to fly humans using the SLS.

        --
        [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 [soylentnews.org]
      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 26, @12:22AM

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 26, @12:22AM (#587633)

        the
        cost would be much MUCH lower, and they would probably be fighting each other to launch it ASAP.

        but no, pork must be spread around..
        I know people will jump all over me (as they always do) for even suggesting this, because NASA can do no wrong (I can
        only assume this is because they somehow think its startrek related) however think about it before jerking that knee -
        what we need is a healthy, strong NASA, not one bogged down in stupid contracts and internal red take that all works to
        maximise costs while minimising delivery - that is what we have today.

        Jump! Jump! JUMP! All over Jump! Truly you are a libertariantard idiot. I think you are suggesting we use Somalia's private enterprise space services? The Libertarian Paradise! No stupid contracts, and no internal red take! Just pure adolescent male FREEDOM! Wolverines! In Space!

      • (Score: 2) by jelizondo on Thursday October 26, @02:14AM

        by jelizondo (653) on Thursday October 26, @02:14AM (#587668)

        what we need is a healthy, strong NASA, not one bogged down in stupid contracts and internal red take

        By red take, you mean graft or pork?

         

        I know, press the PREVIEW button first! :-)

      • (Score: 2) by JoeMerchant on Thursday October 26, @01:05PM

        by JoeMerchant (3937) on Thursday October 26, @01:05PM (#587782)

        In today's space ecosystem, if private concerns thought they could make a profit renting such an instrument, they would be scrambling to develop and launch one.

        The users of the science out of instruments like this are not themselves funded to a level to finance its construction - just like the users of the Interstate highway could never afford to pay for the real cost of its continued construction and maintenance.

    • (Score: 2) by takyon on Wednesday October 25, @11:42PM (2 children)

      by takyon (881) <{takyon} {at} {soylentnews.org}> on Wednesday October 25, @11:42PM (#587617) Journal

      To be fair, WFIRST is based on a donated National Reconnaissance telescope [wikipedia.org].

      --
      [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 [soylentnews.org]
      • (Score: 2) by bob_super on Thursday October 26, @12:39AM

        by bob_super (1357) on Thursday October 26, @12:39AM (#587642)

        It's wonderful that NRO had two brand-new $250M telescopes (plus parts) deemed obsolete, and definitely got money to replace that, while NASA has to fight for pennies.

        Given the quality of the discarded NRO payloads, can anyone objectively explain how there can still be a war on drugs, Daesh, or Taliban?

      • (Score: 2) by qzm on Thursday October 26, @01:18AM

        by qzm (3260) on Thursday October 26, @01:18AM (#587656)

        From our friends at Wikipedia.. ' According to one NASA estimate using an NRO telescope would raise the cost of WFIRST by $250 million above its $1.5 billion budget.'

        Note that those were old projections, we are now at 3.6 Billion? nice - for the contractors.

        So dont worry, NASA (through its contractors, and controlled by the govt of course) manage to look that gift horse in the mouth and use it to increase costs even more.

        THIS is the problem with NASA these days, not the concept of NASA, but the implementation - it has gone beyond a joke.

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