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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: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 07, @09:38AM (2 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 07, @09:38AM (#606737)

    > Management of a billion-dollar-project is not a matter of your beliefs

    I beg to differ. At the end of the day, risk is all about guesswork. So you can make a risk register and plug in relevant guess of the risks - but it will always be a guess, with errors associated with the experience and ingenuity of your staff. The problem with large research projects is the risks are huge. Factor 2 overspend is the norm (but try telling that to a funding agency).

    Compare it to building a house, where the risks are extremely well known once the foundations are in. Even here, 20 % overspend is not rare.

  • (Score: 3, Touché) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 07, @10:25AM (1 child)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 07, @10:25AM (#606749)

    You misunderstood me: my comment was not about the guesstimates involved in risk management. These unknowns are inherent, and there's proven methods (like your overspend factor) to deal with them. And I assume NASA used them, because they invented some of them.

    What I hear this guy saying is, after taking away his congress-soothing choice of words, and after adding a lot of internal-engineer-style honesty:

    "We have a pretty solid project planning developed with state-of-the-art-methods [this is NASA, we're professionals, not MBA-floozies]. We then lowered the initial numbers to get your approval, because we know full well the kind of science-scrooges you are. We are now not only starting to eat into our reserves (after all, that was expected and was planned for). Rather, we have reached a point where statistics tell us that our initial risk estimates were wrong (that hurricane was a once-in-a-lifetime hit!), and therefore our remaining reserves are probably too low (according to experience) for the rest of the project. This is Not Good (tm).

    In a just and honest world, I would be asking you for more money now, to offset the underestimated hurricane problems, to refill our reserves, to be prepared for future mishaps which I know are coming. But I also know *you*. I know that - despite our initial, beautified numbers, you already think we're spending too much. I know that you would rather cancel our most important project now (and five more on top!) instead of doing the reasonable thing, especially in the current political climate. So I am hereby telling you the lie that all is fine, to prevent you from stopping the program. I fully know that from now on things will need to go _exceptionally well_ for us to scrape by at all - if it is a "normal" project we will need more money, and if it's even slightly "bad" we'll be needing _a lot more_, on short notice. Doing nothing about these risks now is bad management, and I know it, and I know you will hold it against me in the future when I'll be back. But the alternative is cancelling the program now (with high likeliness) instead of having it cancelled later (with much lower likeliness). So I know what I have to tell you: "

    "I believe that (from now on no bad things won't be happening at all and finishing on the existing budget:) it's achievable."

    Like, yeah, right. "Achievable" in the sense of "I cannot prove conclusively that it's impossible".

    BUT!!: smart move, IMNSHO, because I really think that in our times, concerning the NASA budget, congress actually _deserves_ being lied to.

    • (Score: 2) by frojack on Thursday December 07, @07:56PM

      by frojack (1554) Subscriber Badge on Thursday December 07, @07:56PM (#606970) Journal

      I really think that in our times, concerning the NASA budget, congress actually _deserves_ being lied to.

      Because that has worked out so well in the past?

      --
      No, you are mistaken. I've always had this sig.