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.
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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.
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.