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posted by Fnord666 on Sunday March 04 2018, @04:18PM   Printer-friendly
from the easier-to-correct-down-here dept.

The U.S. Government Acountability [sic] Office (GAO) has warned that the launch of James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is likely to be delayed again, which could cause the budget cap set by the U.S. Congress to be exceeded:

The U.S. Government Acountability [sic] Office (GAO), a non-partisan group that investigates federal spending and performance, has issued a report on the James Webb Space Telescope that has astronomers worried. "It's likely the launch date will be delayed again," the report concludes — an ominous statement, given that any further delays could risk project cancellation.

Last year NASA announced a delay in the telescope's launch to sometime between March and June 2019. The 5- to 8-month delay came from problems integrating spacecraft components, especially its complex, five-layered sunshield, which must unfold perfectly when the telescope is deployed. Right after requesting the change in launch readiness date, the mission learned of further delays from its contractor, Northrum Grumman, due to "lessons learned from conducting deployment exercises of the spacecraft element and sunshield."

The mission now has 1.5 months of schedule reserve remaining, the GAO finds. Delays during integration and testing are common, "the phase in development where problems are most likely to be found and schedules tend to slip." The project has a total of five phases of integration and testing, and has made significant progress on phases three and four, with the fifth phase beginning in July.

GAO's 31-page report, February 2018: JWST: Integration and Test Challenges Have Delayed Launch and Threaten to Push Costs Over Cap.

Also at Science Magazine.

Previously: Launch of James Webb Space Telescope Delayed to Spring 2019
Launch of James Webb Space Telescope Could be Further Delayed

Related: James Webb Space Telescope Vibration Testing Completed
NASA Considering Flagship Space Telescope Options for the 2030s
WFIRST Space Observatory Could be Scaled Back Due to Costs
JWST: Too Big to Fail?
Trump Administration Budget Proposal Would Cancel WFIRST

Original Submission

Related Stories

James Webb Space Telescope Vibration Testing Completed 5 comments

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) remains on track for an October 2018 launch:

JWST passed its final vibration testing Tuesday ensuring that the craft is finally fit for spaceflight. NASA has scheduled the telescope for an October 2018 launch, but the telescope was originally supposed to be launched in 2011 marking a long history of major cost overruns and delays.

NASA announced last December that the JWST was halfway completed, but the project is currently $7.2 billion over its initial budget and seven years behind the original schedule. The JWST was initially projected to cost $1.6 billion. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) now estimates the final cost of the telescope at $8.8 billion.

[...] During vibration testing in December at NASA's Goddard Spaceflight Center, accelerometers attached to the telescope detected "unexpected responses" and engineers were forced to shut the test down to protect the hardware. The kind of response NASA found could potentially create serious problems when the telescope is launched into space.

Original Submission

NASA Considering Flagship Space Telescope Options for the 2030s 26 comments

NASA is considering four proposed space telescopes and will likely launch one of them in the 2030s as a flagship mission, like the Hubble Space Telescope or the James Webb Space Telescope:

  • Large Ultraviolet/Optical/Infrared Surveyor (LUVOIR), a multipurpose follow-up mission to the Hubble Space Telescope and the James Webb Space Telescope with a 8-16 meter (26-52 foot) primary mirror that would make discoveries on exoplanets, dark matter, star formation, the earliest galaxies of the universe, and within our own solar system.
  • Habitable Exoplanet Imaging Mission (HabEx), a smaller telescope than LUVOIR with a 4-8 meter (13-26 foot) primary mirror and instruments sensitive to ultraviolet, visible and near-infrared light to find worlds outside our solar system that could harbor life. HabEx could fly with a coronagraph, a component inside the telescope to mask starlight and reveal faint reflections from planets, or a starshade, a separate vehicle flying in formation with the telescope to blot out starlight.
  • Origins Space Telescope, a far-infrared surveyor with a primary mirror up to 9 meters (30 feet) in diameter that would be a successor to NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope and the European Space Agency's Herschel Space Observatory. The Origins Space Telescope will investigate how galaxies, stars and planets form, search for water and greenhouse gases on exoplanets, and study interstellar dust.
  • The Lynx X-ray telescope, following in the footsteps of NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and ESA's XMM-Newton mission, will study the dawn of the first black holes, and the epoch of reionization, when the first galaxies and light sources emerged after the Big Bang.

The LUVOIR space telescope would be the closest to a successor of Hubble, covering a similar range of wavelengths. It is also similar in size to two recent proposals: the High Definition Space Telescope (HDST) and the Advanced Technology Large-Aperture Space Telescope (ATLAST).

The JWST was not designed to be serviceable and will likely only last for 5-10 years after its planned launch in October 2018. It has a 6.5 meter primary mirror. Hubble has been operating since 1990 but only has a 2.4 meter primary mirror.

The Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope will launch in the 2020s.

Original Submission

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

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.

Trump Administration Budget Proposal Would Cancel WFIRST 16 comments

A Trump administration budget proposal would cancel NASA's flagship-class Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) as well as several Earth science related telescopes, as it focuses on the Space Launch System, Orion, and sending astronauts to an orbital space station around the Moon:

The Trump administration has released its budget proposal for fiscal year 2019 and put dozens of federal programs on the chopping block, including a brand-new NASA space telescope that scientists say would provide the biggest picture of the universe yet, with the same sparkling clarity as the Hubble Space Telescope. The proposal, released Monday, recommends eliminating the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), citing "higher priorities" at NASA and the cost of the new telescope.

"Given competing priorities at NASA, and budget constraints, developing another large space telescope immediately after completing the $8.8 billion James Webb Space Telescope is not a priority for the administration," the proposal states. "The budget proposes to terminate WFIRST and redirect existing funds to other priorities of the science community, including completed astrophysics missions and research."

Although the Trump administration wants to end funding of the International Space Station (ISS) by 2025, it envisions private companies picking up the slack:

"The decision to end direct federal support for the ISS in 2025 does not imply that the platform itself will be deorbited at that time — it is possible that industry could continue to operate certain elements or capabilities of the ISS as part of a future commercial platform," according to a draft summary of NASA's ISS Transition Report required by Congress in the agency's 2017 Authorization Act.

Launch of James Webb Space Telescope Delayed to May 2020, Could Exceed Budget Cap 33 comments

The launch of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has been delayed yet again, due to damage to the spacecraft's thrusters, sunshield, and tension cables:

The slip is not exactly surprising, even though construction and testing of Webb's primary mirror and scientific instruments—its riskiest, most expensive elements—is already complete. These components were delivered in early February to Webb's prime contractor, the aerospace company Northrop Grumman, for further testing and integration with the rest of the telescope. But later that month a report from the Government Accountability Office warned that the company had fallen behind schedule on the supposedly easier parts of the observatory. Valves on the spacecraft's thrusters had sprung leaks after being improperly cleaned, and replacing them had taken the better part of a year. Webb's tennis-court-sized, five-layered folding "sunshield" had also been torn during a test as it unfurled, requiring time-consuming failure analyses and repairs.

Northrop Grumman's Faulty Payload Adapter Reportedly Responsible for "Zuma" Failure 9 comments

Northrop Grumman, rather than SpaceX, is reportedly responsible for the loss of a secret satellite (reportedly) worth $3.5 billion:

In early January, SpaceX adamantly denied rumors that it had botched the launch of a classified spy satellite called Zuma, and now, a new government probe has absolved the company of blame for the spacecraft's loss. Government investigators looking into the mission determined that a structure on top of the rocket, called the payload adapter, failed to deploy the satellite into orbit, The Wall Street Journal reports. That adapter was built by defense contractor Northrop Grumman, which means SpaceX isn't at fault for Zuma's demise.

This scenario aligns with what many speculated at the time. SpaceX launched Zuma on top of its Falcon 9 rocket on January 7th, and just a day later, reports started to surface that the satellite had fallen back to Earth and burned up in the atmosphere after the mission. However, SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell claimed that the rocket performed as it was supposed to. "For clarity: after review of all data to date, Falcon 9 did everything correctly on Sunday night," she said in a statement. "If we or others find otherwise based on further review, we will report it immediately. Information published that is contrary to this statement is categorically false."

[...] Meanwhile, the payload adapter failure isn't a good look for Northrop Grumman, which is having a difficult time piecing together another important spacecraft right now: NASA's James Webb Space Telescope. Northrop is the main contractor of the telescope and is currently integrating large pieces of the spacecraft at the company's facilities in Redondo Beach, California. However, NASA recently announced that James Webb's launch will have to be delayed until 2020, due to a number of mistakes and delays that were made at Northrop during the construction process.

SpaceX should demand to use its own payload adapters for any new classified/national security launches, because it will probably be granted in light of this "Beltway bandit" fiasco.

Also at CNBC and LA Times.

Previously: SpaceX's Mysterious Zuma Mission May Soon Take Flight
Rumors Swirl Around the Fate of the Secret "Zuma" Satellite Launched by SpaceX
Zuma Failure Emboldens SpaceX's ULA-Backed Critics; Gets Support from US Air Force [Updated]

Related: GAO: James Webb Space Telescope Launch Date Likely Will be Delayed (Again)
Launch of James Webb Space Telescope Delayed to May 2020, Could Exceed Budget Cap

Original Submission

Screws and Washers Have Fallen Off JWST Amid Testing and Independent Review 32 comments

JWST suffers new problem during spacecraft testing

In a presentation at a meeting of the National Academies' Space Studies Board here May 3, Greg Robinson, the JWST program director at NASA Headquarters, said some "screws and washers" appear to have come off the spacecraft during recent environmental testing at a Northrop Grumman facility in Southern California. Technicians found the items after the spacecraft element of JWST, which includes the bus and sunshield but not its optics and instruments, was moved last weekend from one chamber for acoustics tests to another to prepare for vibration testing.

"Right now we believe that all of this hardware — we're talking screws and washers here — come from the sunshield cover," he said. "We're looking at what this really means and what is the recovery plan." The problem, he said, was only a couple of days old, and he had few additional details about the problem. "It's not terrible news, but it's not good news, either," he said. The incident, Robinson argued, showed the importance of the wide range of tests the spacecraft is put through prior to launch. "That's why we do the testing," he said. "We do it now, we find it now, we fix it and we launch a good spacecraft."

This latest incident comes as an independent review board, chartered by NASA in late March after announcing a one-year delay in JWST's launch because of other technical issues, is in the midst of its analysis of the mission and its launch readiness. That review, led by retired aerospace executive and former NASA Goddard director Tom Young, is scheduled to be completed at the end of the month.

NASA is expected to brief Congress on the status of the James Webb Space Telescope in late June.

Also at Popular Mechanics.

Previously: James Webb Space Telescope Vibration Testing Completed
Launch of James Webb Space Telescope Delayed to Spring 2019
JWST: Too Big to Fail?
GAO: James Webb Space Telescope Launch Date Likely Will be Delayed (Again)
Launch of James Webb Space Telescope Delayed to May 2020, Could Exceed Budget Cap
NASA Announces JWST Independent Review Board Members

Related: Northrop Grumman's Faulty Payload Adapter Reportedly Responsible for "Zuma" Failure

Original Submission

Launch of James Webb Space Telescope Delayed Again, This Time to March 2021, Cost at $9.66 Billion 17 comments

Remember the JWST? Yup:

NASA has again delayed the launch of its next-generation space observatory, known as the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), the space agency announced today. The telescope now has a new launch date of March 30th, 2021. It's the second delay to the project's timeline this year, and the third in the last nine months.

"We're all disappointed that the culmination of Webb and its launch is taking longer than expected, but we're creating something new here. We're dealing with cutting edge technology to perform an unprecedented mission, and I know that our teams are working hard and will successfully overcome the challenges," NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a video statement. "In space we always have to look at the long term, and sometimes the complexities of our missions don't come together as soon as we wish. But we learn, we move ahead, and ultimately we succeed."

NASA pushed the launch of JWST, which is viewed as a more powerful successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, from 2019 to 2020 in March of this year. At the same time the space agency also convened an independent review board to assess the future of the project, which is running the risk of blowing by an $8 billion cost cap set by NASA in 2011. Going beyond that cost cap would mean that Congress has to reauthorize the program.

JWST Launch Christmas Morning 55 comments

James Webb Space Telescope reaches launch pad for Christmas liftoff

The James Webb Space Telescope is due to launch on Saturday (Dec. 25) during a 32-minute window that opens at 7:20 a.m. EST (1220 GMT). The massive observatory will blast off from Kourou, French Guiana, atop an Ariane 5 rocket operated by European launch provider Arianespace. You can watch launch coverage live at beginning at 6 a.m. EST (1100 GMT) courtesy of NASA or you can watch directly at the agency's website.

ESA launch kit (PDF).


Original Submission

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  • (Score: 2, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 04 2018, @05:48PM (15 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 04 2018, @05:48PM (#647681)

    That EXPLAINS a *LOT*.

    I talked to a former chief mechanic at McClellan AFB a few years back. A few years before the base closed down he'd developed a testing and repair procedure for the F-14's avionics for the Navy. Long story short, he managed to do repairs on the units for 1/16th what NG was charging for repairing the units, on a far shorter turnaround base AND it lasted at least 16 hours. Apparently the Grumman units had an MTBF of around 4-8 hours, took months to get returned, and promptly re-failed. According to him, half of the F-14 flights at that point were going out with a big chunk of the navigation avionics system uncalibrated or out of commission.

    While I am sure this is a different branch of NG from that one, I think the shortcomings there, 20ish years ago are probably still at play with whoever is handling these components for NASA today.

    • (Score: 2) by takyon on Sunday March 04 2018, @06:05PM (13 children)

      by takyon (881) <> on Sunday March 04 2018, @06:05PM (#647683) Journal

      NASA's risk-averse and tedious testing procedures have been identified as one reason for the delays.

      [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 []
      • (Score: 4, Interesting) by frojack on Sunday March 04 2018, @07:31PM (11 children)

        by frojack (1554) on Sunday March 04 2018, @07:31PM (#647700) Journal

        Tedious testing is probably warranted.

        Since its eventually going to be located near the Earth–Sun L₂ Lagrangian point, nobody is going to be able to visit it and repair it.

        Hubble was almost a total loss, except that we could get to it and partially repair it.
        Mars Climate Orbiter got metric and imperial messed up.
        Schiaparelli Mars lander cratered because nobody simulated atmospheric entry.

        No, you are mistaken. I've always had this sig.
        • (Score: 3, Interesting) by Virindi on Sunday March 04 2018, @08:49PM (8 children)

          by Virindi (3484) on Sunday March 04 2018, @08:49PM (#647717)

          It is obvious that better reliability is needed. However, it is not obvious whether NASA's "tedious testing" helps achieve this.

          It is very easy to do large amounts of completely worthless, bureaucratic testing, and not decrease the failure rate. Is what they are doing now actually useful? I don't know.

          • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 04 2018, @11:24PM (7 children)

            by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 04 2018, @11:24PM (#647769)
            This [] is the rationale behind this tedious testing, in the words of Richard Feynman.
            • (Score: 2) by takyon on Sunday March 04 2018, @11:44PM (4 children)

              by takyon (881) <> on Sunday March 04 2018, @11:44PM (#647785) Journal

              There won't be any humans going up in flames if the JWST or Ariane rocket fail. Just dollars.

              [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 []
              • (Score: 2) by Kell on Monday March 05 2018, @12:08AM

                by Kell (292) on Monday March 05 2018, @12:08AM (#647792)

                But admittedly, billions and billions of dollars, and the combined efforts of thousands of scientists and engineers over several decades. Probably worth safe-guarding that, too.

                Scientists ask questions. Engineers solve problems.
              • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 05 2018, @12:13AM

                by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 05 2018, @12:13AM (#647795)

                Yes, well, we live in a capitalist system! Dollars are more precious than human life. Couldn't we send some humans up there to reduce the number of dollars at risk?

              • (Score: 2) by Virindi on Monday March 05 2018, @01:18AM

                by Virindi (3484) on Monday March 05 2018, @01:18AM (#647807)

                There won't be any humans going up in flames if the JWST or Ariane rocket fail. Just dollars.

                And those dollars could have been put to much better uses! Feeding the hungry, curing cancer, whatever! Except the dollars are already spent now.

                It is a sunk cost problem.

              • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 05 2018, @01:26AM

                by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 05 2018, @01:26AM (#647809)
                Probably still cheaper to do the tedious tests than to have a space telescope that represents billions of dollars worth of science and engineering to fail.
            • (Score: 2) by Virindi on Monday March 05 2018, @01:13AM

              by Virindi (3484) on Monday March 05 2018, @01:13AM (#647805)

              This does not in any way address my point: that more testing does not necessarily equate to better reliability. The Challenger report merely discusses institutional attitudes of "faith" and "not my problem".

              I never argued against reliability, or trying to make the best design possible. But the path towards getting a better design than now is not always to just throw more dollars and hours into contrived testing and list ticking. The answers to problems in the real world are never so simple; it requires a judgment call. And after such insane cost and time overruns, it is natural to ask if such a judgment call was even considered or if the institution is just on bureaucratic autopilot.

            • (Score: 2, Insightful) by khallow on Monday March 05 2018, @03:06AM

              by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Monday March 05 2018, @03:06AM (#647839) Journal
              Let's look at what Feynman wrote:

              An estimate of the reliability of solid rockets was made by the range safety officer, by studying the experience of all previous rocket flights. Out of a total of nearly 2,900 flights, 121 failed (1 in 25). This includes, however, what may be called, early errors, rockets flown for the first few times in which design errors are discovered and fixed. A more reasonable figure for the mature rockets might be 1 in 50. With special care in the selection of parts and in inspection, a figure of below 1 in 100 might be achieved but 1 in 1,000 is probably not attainable with today's technology. (Since there are two rockets on the Shuttle, these rocket failure rates must be doubled to get Shuttle failure rates from Solid Rocket Booster failure.)


              It is true that if the probability of failure was as low as 1 in 100,000 it would take an inordinate number of tests to determine it ( you would get nothing but a string of perfect flights from which no precise figure, other than that the probability is likely less than the number of such flights in the string so far). But, if the real probability is not so small, flights would show troubles, near failures, and possible actual failures with a reasonable number of trials. and standard statistical methods could give a reasonable estimate. In fact, previous NASA experience had shown, on occasion, just such difficulties, near accidents, and accidents, all giving warning that the probability of flight failure was not so very small. The inconsistency of the argument not to determine reliability through historical experience, as the range safety officer did, is that NASA also appeals to history, beginning "Historically this high degree of mission success..."

              In other words, Feynman emphasized determining failure rate from trying and failing, not from tedious testing that doesn't do the job. One-off (that is, making one of a design) has enormous reliability costs with the biggest being merely that one doesn't know until one deploys the project what sort of problems it'll face. And by then, it's too late. If instead, NASA had built several (3+) space telescopes, then they could have launched one, learned from the problems demonstrated, to improve the next and repeat. All the testing in the world won't catch a fatal problem that you didn't know was there. Deploying the space telescope will discover those.

        • (Score: 2) by takyon on Sunday March 04 2018, @10:23PM (1 child)

          by takyon (881) <> on Sunday March 04 2018, @10:23PM (#647745) Journal

          The budget for JWST [] was at $500 million in 1997, $1.8 billion in 2000, $3 billion in 2005, and roughly $8.8 billion today (possibly more if GAO is right).

          With less tedious testing, maybe the budget would have been half, with a slightly higher chance of failure but an earlier launch date (by years).

          JWST is too big to fail now, but it could teach us a few lessons about future telescopes. We want them big and cheap, and that could be done with something like BFR. Make the telescope, test it a bit, launch it, repeat.

          As for servicing the JWST, it could still be serviced even if it is not designed for it. Hire India's ISRO to create a robotic servicing craft. Send them a few technical advisors to cut down on dumb mistakes. Pay for a cheap BFR launch from SpaceX. Even if it cost $1 billion, it would be well worth the trouble. Such a servicing mission will likely be necessary around 2029:

          JWST needs to use propellant to maintain its halo orbit around L2, which provides an upper limit to its designed lifetime, and it is being designed to carry enough for ten years.

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          • (Score: 3, Insightful) by Virindi on Sunday March 04 2018, @10:49PM

            by Virindi (3484) on Sunday March 04 2018, @10:49PM (#647756)

            Yeah exactly, at this point it almost seems like they could have cut the cost in half and launched two instead. Or more!

            At some point being able to launch a whole bunch of times for the same cost serves as much better testing than merely adding billions of dollars of bureaucracy. Testing without actual mission experience has diminishing returns.

            All new-design endeavors are like this; software is the obvious example that is the same. As long as lives or huge fortunes aren't at risk (or maybe even if they are) there is a limit where you need a trial deployment to actually find the "hard bugs". Simply adding more "testing" because you are risk-averse is not going to help much because at some point, the problems that you are likely to encounter are precisely the ones your testing did not anticipate.

      • (Score: 2) by c0lo on Monday March 05 2018, @08:53AM

        by c0lo (156) Subscriber Badge on Monday March 05 2018, @08:53AM (#647910) Journal

        NASA's risk-averse and tedious testing procedures have been identified as one reason for the delays.

        When your supply channels are run by Sergeant Bilko (because this is how MIC can extract the highest profit), I think NASA may be right.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 04 2018, @06:13PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 04 2018, @06:13PM (#647685)

      I talked to a former capt in the airforce that automated an inventory and ordering system. Nuked from orbit it was going to put 200 people out of work.