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posted by martyb on Thursday December 07, @08:49AM   Printer-friendly
from the hurricane-blew-schedule-out-of-the-water dept.

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: 5, Insightful) by aristarchus on Thursday December 07, @09:12AM (23 children)

    by aristarchus (2645) Subscriber Badge on Thursday December 07, @09:12AM (#606723) Journal

    I mean, it is not like it is rocket science, or something. Except it is? Delay and expense are worth it to ensure that the scope actually makes it into space, and the proper position, and actually works. Otherwise all the investment so far will be lost as well.

    Consider: when they screwed up on the Hubble, we were able to go up there and fix it. Probably not going to be feasible with the Webb. So let's get it right the first time, since it will be the only time.

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  • (Score: 1, Funny) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 07, @09:28AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 07, @09:28AM (#606732)

    Uh-oh, this is not a balanced comment.
    I see a strong bias towards the first time, like the first time is some sort of a special snow flake. That's cherry picking, not scientific at all.

  • (Score: 4, Funny) by FatPhil on Thursday December 07, @09:56AM (5 children)

    by FatPhil (863) <reversethis-{if.fdsa} {ta} {tnelyos-cp}> on Thursday December 07, @09:56AM (#606745) Homepage
    They'd not fix it, they'd simply build a replacement. However, as Lagrangian points are limited, they'd need to arm the replacement with some kind of laser weapon to blast the old telescope to smithereens first, so they would actually have one literal shot at it. But that's untested tech, so they'd probably need to prove it was workable by putting some laser-toting satelites in closer orbit around earth first.

    You know, I think I may have just worked out how they could get more funding for this...
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    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 07, @10:07AM (1 child)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 07, @10:07AM (#606748)

      A laser in space that can fry you like an ant, or a microwave laser in space that can make your head heat up and explode (the latter, like in Scanners)?

      You should be very careful what you wish for, because the shit that is capable today.... well it is enough to piss yourself, even if you're not incontinent...

    • (Score: 2) by bzipitidoo on Thursday December 07, @03:13PM

      by bzipitidoo (4388) on Thursday December 07, @03:13PM (#606810) Journal

      I was going to say they should have included a "defense" laser from the beginning, to secure military funding.

      If you can't compete with the military, join them?

    • (Score: 2) by Freeman on Thursday December 07, @06:10PM (1 child)

      by Freeman (732) on Thursday December 07, @06:10PM (#606907) Journal

      Or, you know, someone could hitch a ride with SpaceX and get up there to fix it.

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  • (Score: 5, Interesting) by takyon on Thursday December 07, @11:28AM (4 children)

    by takyon (881) <takyonNO@SPAMsoylentnews.org> on Thursday December 07, @11:28AM (#606764) Journal

    It has been argued that space telescopes gobble up funding [nature.com] that could be used by productive ground-based astronomy. But the capabilities you can get in return are just too overwhelming.

    https://jwst-docs.stsci.edu/display/JSP/JWST+GTO+Observation+Specifications#JWSTGTOObservationSpecifications-ObservationsofSolarSystemObjects [stsci.edu]

    Many of the most interesting astronomical targets (exoplanets, protoplanetary/debris disks, brown dwarfs, KBOs) require infrared observations which will never be as good from the ground, even with the help of adaptive optics. In fact, its location at L2 forgoes even more observation-interfering heat than would be possible at LEO (like Hubble).

    JWST is past the point of cancellation. Now it has to get up there and work properly. If the launch vehicle explodes or the telescope fails to work, it will be the biggest blow to astronomy in a long time. This thing has a credible chance of finding evidence of life on exoplanets, will provide the best ever views of many objects in and out of the solar system, etc. We will be lucky to get ATLAST [wikipedia.org]/HDST [wikipedia.org]/LUVOIR [wikipedia.org] in the 2030s, especially if JWST fails. Apparently, future flagships would have to be serviceable due to a law Congress passed in 2010. Hopefully, someone will come up with a relatively cheap way to refuel JWST once it becomes unable to do any more station-keeping.

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    • (Score: 2) by Grishnakh on Thursday December 07, @03:53PM (3 children)

      by Grishnakh (2831) on Thursday December 07, @03:53PM (#606837)

      If we had a permanent human presence on the Moon, this might not be such an issue: we could build ground telescopes on the Moon cheaper than space telescopes, and they'd be a lot easier to service. The main disadvantage is you wouldn't have as much flexibility in which direction you point them. Of course, this would only work with a significant human presence there already: manufacturing facilities, people on hand to build them, qualified people who can take a rover out and service a telescope if there's a problem, etc. With a space telescope, if it doesn't work perfectly right away, you have to spend tons of money on a manned mission to send someone up there to fix it.

      • (Score: 2) by takyon on Thursday December 07, @04:09PM (2 children)

        by takyon (881) <takyonNO@SPAMsoylentnews.org> on Thursday December 07, @04:09PM (#606842) Journal

        With a space telescope, if it doesn't work perfectly right away, you have to spend tons of money on a manned mission to send someone up there to fix it.

        I don't see any reason why it can't be done with robots. The not-designed-to-be-serviced JWST faces a very simple challenge to its maximum lifespan: it will run out of propellant for station-keeping. If it can't be refueled or maintained by an external thruster, then that would be very. UNFORTUNATE.

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        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 07, @08:29PM (1 child)

          by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 07, @08:29PM (#606978)

          It's orbit would degrade, from a LaGrange point? And then it would plummet back to earth? Your point is taken, takyon, but not for station-keeping, for aiming the darn thing, and keeping its solar shield pointed, you know, toward the sun.

          • (Score: 2) by takyon on Thursday December 07, @09:05PM

            by takyon (881) <takyonNO@SPAMsoylentnews.org> on Thursday December 07, @09:05PM (#606988) Journal

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Webb_Space_Telescope#Orbit [wikipedia.org]

            The JWST will be located near the second Lagrange point (L2) of the Earth-Sun system, which is 1,500,000 kilometers (930,000 mi) from Earth, directly opposite to the Sun. Normally an object circling the Sun farther out than Earth would take longer than one year to complete its orbit, but near the L2 point the combined gravitational pull of the Earth and the Sun allow a spacecraft to orbit the Sun in the same time it takes the Earth. The telescope will circle about the L2 point in a halo orbit, which will be inclined with respect to the ecliptic, have a radius of approximately 800,000 kilometers (500,000 mi), and take about half a year to complete. Since L2 is just an equilibrium point with no gravitational pull, a halo orbit is not an orbit in the usual sense: the spacecraft is actually in orbit around the Sun, and the halo orbit can be thought of as controlled drifting to remain in the vicinity of the L2 point. This requires some station-keeping: around 2–4 m/s per year from the total budget of 150 m/s. Two sets of thrusters constitute the observatory's propulsion system.

            L2 is "metastable", not stable like L4 and L5.

            https://jwst.nasa.gov/realworld_parrish.html [nasa.gov]

            JWST, which orbits around Lagrange Point Two, will carry enough fuel for orbit maintenance. If it should fall out of orbit it could end up being pulled into the orbit of the Sun, or even less likely return to Earth.

            NASA has a disposal requirement at the end of JWST's useful life that ensures the telescope won't be a hazard to human life, or other spacecraft. At the end of its mission we will point it in a direction in which it won't be able to return to Earth and we'll use the remaining fuel to send it that way.

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  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 07, @03:51PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 07, @03:51PM (#606834)

    Damn you. Stop being right. I've gotten into the habit of just modding you down all the time. Dammit, you screwed things up. I've told you before to stop doing that!! Just be your reliable self, and post troll comments, and make my modding chores easier.

  • (Score: 1) by khallow on Thursday December 07, @07:59PM (9 children)

    by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Thursday December 07, @07:59PM (#606972) Journal

    Probably not going to be feasible with the Webb. So let's get it right the first time, since it will be the only time.

    This illustrates a common problem with NASA projects. The JWST (James Webb Space Telescope) is a one-off, that is, it is one of a kind. That makes it particularly costly, since the considerable R&D costs can only be spread over one vehicle. Similar, it has very high risks associated with launch and deployment since there are no backup vehicles to take its place. My view is that NASA should instead have built multiple space telescopes, each less individually capable than the JWST, but with lower cost per telescope, greater overall scientific output, quicker deployment times (no 23+ year delay from start to launch as with the JWST), less overall risk (you can lose a telescope without losing the entire investment) and greater reliability (you have the opportunity to fix problems in the rest of your telescopes after deploying one).

    • (Score: 3, Insightful) by aristarchus on Thursday December 07, @08:26PM (7 children)

      by aristarchus (2645) Subscriber Badge on Thursday December 07, @08:26PM (#606976) Journal

      It's science, khallow! Not capitalism! Remember, scientia potentia est, as Sir Francis Bacon used to say. Redundant JWTs, you say, because they are cheaper by the dozen, and with six you get egg-rolls? If you can barely get Republicans to fund one new space telescope, and you cannot get them to understand climate change is real, do you think Congress would fund your wacky "risk mitigation through redundancy" scheme? Not likely. Now go and play with your Bitcoin, and leave real science to the real scientists, m'kay?

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      • (Score: 1) by khallow on Thursday December 07, @11:21PM (6 children)

        by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Thursday December 07, @11:21PM (#607037) Journal

        If you can barely get Republicans to fund one new space telescope, and you cannot get them to understand climate change is real, do you think Congress would fund your wacky "risk mitigation through redundancy" scheme?

        Such games are firmly bipartisan. As far as Congress is concerned it's already game over. Most of the costs of the JWST have already occurred with launch being the last big payout. There's not much political value left to JWST except as a sop to voters. With all these delays, it's not much of a sop either. Having it launch successfully and then die in space would be ideal politically since the money is fully consumed and one can start over with another costly round of one-off development.

        • (Score: 3, Insightful) by aristarchus on Thursday December 07, @11:28PM (5 children)

          by aristarchus (2645) Subscriber Badge on Thursday December 07, @11:28PM (#607043) Journal

          Having it launch successfully and then die in space would be ideal politically since the money is fully consumed and one can start over with another costly round of one-off development.

          Why you so anti-science, khallow? Did you fail an astrophysics class, or something? Or is this the mothership speaking through you?

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          • (Score: 1) by khallow on Friday December 08, @05:34AM (4 children)

            by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Friday December 08, @05:34AM (#607102) Journal

            Why you so anti-science, khallow?

            Science isn't a political body throwing money around. NASA space projects have devolved decades ago to US-based wealth redistribution to government bureaucracies and businesses that happens to do something in space as part of the activity. The science or other purposes thus becomes a minor part. That's why the US has only one space telescope and very few other missions active at a time (usually with one mission per identifiable niche). For the money being spent, 18 billion USD a year, one could do vastly more. But it involves at the least understanding the economics of space activities, including economies of scale (these are huge due to the remarkably low frequency of space activities), focused and reused technology development, and avoiding costly areas, like orbital launch where private enterprise already provides an adequate, cheap, reliable answer.

            • (Score: 3, Insightful) by aristarchus on Friday December 08, @08:27PM (3 children)

              by aristarchus (2645) Subscriber Badge on Friday December 08, @08:27PM (#607391) Journal

              Science isn't a political body throwing money around. NASA space projects have devolved decades ago to US-based wealth redistribution to government bureaucracies and businesses that happens to do something in space as part of the activity.

              Aha! This explains why the Space Program of the Nation of Somalia is so much further along than the United States! None of that wasteful government bureaucracy in the Libertarian Paradise!

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              • (Score: 1) by khallow on Saturday December 09, @06:28AM (2 children)

                by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Saturday December 09, @06:28AM (#607637) Journal

                This explains why the Space Program of the Nation of Somalia is so much further along than the United States! None of that wasteful government bureaucracy in the Libertarian Paradise!

                When Somalia had a government [wikipedia.org], it was even less capable of a space program than the present.

                • (Score: 3, Insightful) by aristarchus on Saturday December 09, @09:17AM (1 child)

                  by aristarchus (2645) Subscriber Badge on Saturday December 09, @09:17AM (#607660) Journal

                  Truly, khallow, your head is so far up your ass that the possibility of rational argument is as remote as a bowel movement that would render you rational. So, what Somalia needs, to have a Space Program that rivals the US and the (former)USSR is even less centralized government than it has now? Is this much like the argument that the only thing keeping libertarians from solving homelessness is all these darn government regulations? khallow, I enjoy our talks, but you are really, really sick, bro!

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                  • (Score: 1) by khallow on Saturday December 09, @10:08AM

                    by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Saturday December 09, @10:08AM (#607673) Journal

                    Usually, khallow, I would back you up when you say something rational. But this? What is this? Speculation? CIA Agitprop? Donald pump-and-dump on the markets? I cannot tell. And so, I will not comment. Other than to say, as someone allegedly econo-literate, we expected more of you, khallow. Much more.

                    Here. [soylentnews.org]

    • (Score: 3, Insightful) by takyon on Thursday December 07, @08:48PM

      by takyon (881) <takyonNO@SPAMsoylentnews.org> on Thursday December 07, @08:48PM (#606983) Journal

      Light-gathering power goes up by the square of the aperture increase. So telescopes with an aperture of 1/3 have 1/9 of the light collection. JWST is 6.5 meters, Hubble is 2.4, Spitzer is 0.85. Yet it was Spitzer that discovered most of the TRAPPIST-1 exoplanets recently, even with roughly 2% of the light collection capability of JWST. So you have a point there. But it's still not satisfying to me.

      What we should try to do is make them big and cheap. JWST is as big as it is because the mirrors fold, allowing it to fit onto current launch vehicles. The proposed HDST [wikipedia.org] would use the same approach. We should continue along those lines but make them out of crappier materials. Maybe plastic with a reflective coating spraypainted on. If the materials deform in space, fly in external corrective optics like Hubble's COSTAR. Fold together hundreds or thousands of mirror segments instead of JWST's 18 or HDST's 54 to target an aperture of 100+ meters instead of 6.5 to 16.8 (ATLAST [wikipedia.org] proposal). You could make it bigger than many ground telescopes by exploiting the microgravity environment of Earth orbit (let's pass on L2 for now and make this a visible/UV telescope with easy servicing capabilities).

      Forgo testing as much as possible. Build five or more of the telescopes and fly them into different Earth orbits so you have the option of targeting certain objects continuously with little or no interruption. And the more telescopes you can build within the budget, the more times you can fail but still have a successful mission. Fly individual telescopes on Falcon 9 or Falcon Heavy to save cash, reusable mode (less thrust) where possible.

      Obviously, this should be a partnership between NASA and ISRO, where the engineers can be made to work 12+ hours a day [wikipedia.org], no problem.

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