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posted by Fnord666 on Wednesday March 28 2018, @04:53AM   Printer-friendly
from the no-myopics-lens-this-time dept.

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.

NASA will also establish an external Independent Review Board to validate assessments of the telescope's testing:

NASA is establishing an external Independent Review Board (IRB), chaired by Thomas Young, a highly respected NASA and industry veteran who is often called on to chair advisory committees and analyze organizational and technical issues. The IRB findings, which will complement the [Standing Review Board] data, are expected to bolster confidence in NASA's approach to completing the final integration and test phase of the mission, the launch campaign, commissioning, as well as the entire deployment sequence. Both boards' findings and recommendations, as well as the project's input, will be considered by NASA as it defines a more specific launch time frame. NASA will then provide its assessment in a report to Congress this summer.

NASA will work with its partner, ESA (European Space Agency), on a new launch readiness date for the Ariane 5 vehicle that will launch Webb into space. Once a new launch readiness date is determined, NASA will provide a cost estimate that may exceed the projected $8 billion development cost to complete the final phase of testing and prepare for launch. Additional steps to address project challenges include increasing NASA engineering oversight, personnel changes, and new management reporting structures.

NASA will report its progress and the new cost estimate to Congress in June. At this moment in time, NASA doesn't fully know what the final cost of the telescope's development will be, but is now warning that it may exceed its $8 billion budget cap ($8.8 billion including 5 years of operations). The agency will have to get the mission reauthorized by Congress if that is the case.

To Keep NASA's Golden Age Alive, We Need More Telescopes--but Far Less Expensive Ones

The downside of this approach [of launching smaller telescopes] is that highly desirable but extremely expensive flagship telescopes along the lines of Webb must be postponed until the commercial space industry comes fully of age. SpaceX, for example, already launches satellites at one third of the traditional cost, and soon, maybe, that will drop to as little as one fifth. That is a sizable saving by itself.

Cheaper launch services also take the pressure off engineers to relentlessly shave mass from the telescopes themselves by using the lightest and most expensive possible components. Without such a restriction, costs could plausibly be cut by two thirds. Shrinking costs makes a doubling of flagship launch rates feasible. As this commercial revolution continues, an even higher rate of flagship missions could come about. If we embrace such a strategy, the good times needn't stop rolling, and the golden age of astronomy doesn't have to end.

Also at BBC and Nature.

Previously: 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)


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  • (Score: 3, Informative) by takyon on Wednesday March 28 2018, @07:27AM (15 children)

    by takyon (881) <reversethis-{gro ... s} {ta} {noykat}> on Wednesday March 28 2018, @07:27AM (#659388) Journal

    Are you a "private enterprise space advocate", like our takyon, or the khallow? Are you one who think that if the Government is doing it, it must be wrong, and over budget?

    I'm OK with a $10 billion too-big-to-fail space telescope, but it is undeniably over budget. Even if you account for increased capabilities that were added to the original design, it is billions of dollars over budget and over a decade late. NASA readily acknowledges this, and they decided to hold a press briefing yesterday precisely because they believe they have a good chance of exceeding the $8 billion budget cap set by Congress, and will have to get the mission reauthorized yet again.

    The $40-60 billion SLS rocket-to-nowhere, which Congress is overeager to fund [soylentnews.org], is the real problem. It's needlessly expensive and won't even be flying the big payloads [soylentnews.org] it was designed for until it has already been made obsolete by BFR. Passengers can be sent to the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway with the Falcon 9 or ULA's Atlas V instead.

    Governments can obviously get space missions done with reasonable budgets. Look at NASA's New Horizons, ESA's Cosmic Vision [wikipedia.org], or ISRO's Mars Orbiter Mission [wikipedia.org].

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  • (Score: 3, Insightful) by aristarchus on Wednesday March 28 2018, @09:28AM (14 children)

    by aristarchus (2645) on Wednesday March 28 2018, @09:28AM (#659411) Journal

    but it is undeniably over budget.

    Budget? What budget? Whose budget? I am constantly amazed at those who think that knowledge is too expensive. Look, we are trying to understand the universe, not increase the economy by some actually measurable amount! Budgets are like deadlines, they are meant to be ignored.

    • (Score: 1) by khallow on Wednesday March 28 2018, @10:14AM (13 children)

      by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday March 28 2018, @10:14AM (#659417) Journal

      Look, we are trying to understand the universe, not increase the economy by some actually measurable amount!

      There is no one path to understanding the universe and we don't have infinite resources and time available. Economics inevitably comes in. You have to decide what to try and what not to. Even if you think the economy is completely worthless except for what understanding it can contribute to, you still have opportunity cost where making a choice always rules out other choices. $8 billion on a space telescope is $8 billion that could have been spent on other scientific projects which could have expanded your knowledge in other ways.

      • (Score: 5, Insightful) by bzipitidoo on Wednesday March 28 2018, @11:37AM (8 children)

        by bzipitidoo (4388) on Wednesday March 28 2018, @11:37AM (#659452) Journal

        This concern over budgets is extremely hypocritical while the US continues to spend more money on the military than the combined amounts of the next dozen biggest spenders. Talk of "we don't have infinite resources" is ridiculous hyperbole. Duh. No one has infinite resources. Of course we must have defense, but we spend far more than we need. Meanwhile, our infrastructure is decaying because we won't spend the money to maintain and improve it. If it was a choice between the telescope or, say, replacing the lead plumbing of Flint, Michigan and all the other afflicted cities, I'd choose the plumbing upgrade. But it's not.

        Northrop Grumman works on both the telescope and the F-35. One F-35 costs about $100 million. The whole program is about $1,5 trillion and what are we getting out of that? A stupid manned fighter plane that is at best a marginal improvement over the F-22, when real air superiority has moved on to drones and unmanned fighter planes. Could have afforded a hell of a lot of science and infrastructure with that money.

        • (Score: 1) by khallow on Wednesday March 28 2018, @03:51PM (7 children)

          by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday March 28 2018, @03:51PM (#659551) Journal

          This concern over budgets is extremely hypocritical while the US continues to spend more money on the military than the combined amounts of the next dozen biggest spenders.

          So ok to waste money with NASA programs because the US wastes money on national defense?

          Could have afforded a hell of a lot of science and infrastructure with that money.

          Could have afforded a hell of a lot of science and infrastructure with the present spending on NASA. Meanwhile redirecting all that money without reforming NASA just means that one spends more without actually getting more. It'd get sunk on some white elephants with little future and then we'd be back where we are now.

          • (Score: 2) by bzipitidoo on Wednesday March 28 2018, @05:41PM (4 children)

            by bzipitidoo (4388) on Wednesday March 28 2018, @05:41PM (#659605) Journal

            > So ok to waste money with NASA programs

            You really believe the telescopes are a waste of money? We don't need to know what's out there?

            Or are you saying they could have been done with less waste and corruption? I've been a military contractor, and experienced the accusatory environment, the constant suspicion that we were cheating our country and lying, pretending easy problems are hard, stringing out work and even padding the bills. Real thrilling to have the military boys pressure us by dragging in a snake oil sales team from a rival contractor to do their level best to make us look like incompetent, bungling shysters, in order to persuade the military to contract with them instead, and then our management plays the same game, promising the moon even faster and cheaper than they just did, in order to keep the contract. Another little game the military boys play is the national secret crap, withholding vital information because they'll get in big trouble if secrets leak, but if a project fails thanks in no small part to being hamstrung by such concerns, they have the easy out of blaming it all on the slimy contractors.

            If you suspect corruption and conspiracy everywhere, you might want to think about that a bit. It's very demoralizing for the workers to have bosses and customers rush about screaming that everyone is a lying, incompetent crook, without evidence, only the cynical certainly that everyone lies.

            • (Score: 1) by khallow on Wednesday March 28 2018, @07:57PM (2 children)

              by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday March 28 2018, @07:57PM (#659657) Journal

              You really believe the telescopes are a waste of money? We don't need to know what's out there?

              That's two very different questions. I oppose squandering $8 billion to answer the second question a little better, precisely because I want more than just that.

              Or are you saying they could have been done with less waste and corruption?

              Absolutely.

              I've been a military contractor, and experienced the accusatory environment, the constant suspicion that we were cheating our country and lying, pretending easy problems are hard, stringing out work and even padding the bills.

              Ok, so what? Those suspicions were probably true, even if you weren't in on it.

              Real thrilling to have the military boys pressure us by dragging in a snake oil sales team from a rival contractor to do their level best to make us look like incompetent, bungling shysters, in order to persuade the military to contract with them instead, and then our management plays the same game, promising the moon even faster and cheaper than they just did, in order to keep the contract.

              So the suspicions were true.

              Another little game the military boys play is the national secret crap, withholding vital information because they'll get in big trouble if secrets leak, but if a project fails thanks in no small part to being hamstrung by such concerns, they have the easy out of blaming it all on the slimy contractors.

              Ok, so what? I'll note this is your second example of corruption.

              If you suspect corruption and conspiracy everywhere, you might want to think about that a bit. It's very demoralizing for the workers to have bosses and customers rush about screaming that everyone is a lying, incompetent crook, without evidence, only the cynical certainly that everyone lies.

              It's well past suspicion at this point. Sorry you got tarred with the brush, but you could have always gotten yourself a real job. At this point, I think the entire military procurement system is a net liability to the security of the US with liberal use of the nuclear option required - temporary or permanent banning of businesses from any contracts with the US government. For example, Boeing should have been permabanned for the 2004 scandal [corpwatch.org] involving a lease of 767 tankers. ATK Orbital probably should receive a temporary ban for the stupid SLS/Constellation mess. I'm sure I can find plenty of other examples. I think a few years without a major jet producer, for example, would be a small price to pay for a military-industrial complex that actually serves the US's interests.

              Or we could continue to to spend hundreds of billions of dollars each year on vastly overpriced gear and services only to lose a major war when it counts because the other side wasn't similarly limited.

              • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 28 2018, @09:32PM (1 child)

                by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 28 2018, @09:32PM (#659696)

                It's well past suspicion at this point. Sorry you got tarred with the brush, but you could have always gotten yourself a real job.

                Like a sub-contractor to a concessionaire contracting to the Dept. of Interior, instead of a sub-contractor to a contractor to the Dept. of Defense? That kind of a "real job"? Pot and Kettle, I would like to introduce you to the blackest of the black, the sootiest hypocrite there is: khallow.

                • (Score: 1) by khallow on Wednesday March 28 2018, @10:45PM

                  by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday March 28 2018, @10:45PM (#659730) Journal

                  Like a sub-contractor to a concessionaire contracting to the Dept. of Interior,

                  I'm not harming national security. And I'm helping a lot of my fellow workers do their jobs better and make those guests happier.

            • (Score: 1) by khallow on Thursday March 29 2018, @12:30AM

              by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Thursday March 29 2018, @12:30AM (#659784) Journal
              What especially puzzles me about your post is that you just spent the previous one describing just how much money the US is blowing on its military, without getting corresponding military power for that money. For example:

              One F-35 costs about $100 million. The whole program is about $1,5 trillion and what are we getting out of that? A stupid manned fighter plane that is at best a marginal improvement over the F-22, when real air superiority has moved on to drones and unmanned fighter planes.

              Waste and corruption goes a really long way to explaining why outcome wasn't proportional to spending.

          • (Score: 2) by bob_super on Wednesday March 28 2018, @06:24PM (1 child)

            by bob_super (1357) on Wednesday March 28 2018, @06:24PM (#659617)

            > So ok to waste money with NASA programs because the US wastes money on national defense?

            The raise that the Pentagon just got this year ... just the raise ... is three times the NASA budget.
            JWST is much too expensive, and should have cost a quarter to half of its final tally. But there is plenty of money out there, which the US does not have to throw at every weapon it can think of, just because that's the one thing that Congress can agree on.

            With half of its current budget for a few years, the Pentagon could still kick the ass of any other country on the planet (or any combo of them, because nukes), and the rest of that money could be used to fix most of the US's structural issues (infrastructures, schools, competitiveness, plus poverty and under-employment, which drive so many of them). There would probably still be money left to help with the deficit, too. And NASA would be leading the way to the Moon or Mars, with major benefits as it attracts researchers and their funds.

            • (Score: 1) by khallow on Wednesday March 28 2018, @08:05PM

              by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday March 28 2018, @08:05PM (#659659) Journal

              With half of its current budget for a few years, the Pentagon could still kick the ass of any other country on the planet (or any combo of them, because nukes), and the rest of that money could be used to fix most of the US's structural issues (infrastructures, schools, competitiveness, plus poverty and under-employment, which drive so many of them). There would probably still be money left to help with the deficit, too. And NASA would be leading the way to the Moon or Mars, with major benefits as it attracts researchers and their funds.

              It's worse than that. A sensible procurement policy could probably cover that spending cut and still have greatly superior weapon systems and training for military personnel. I think NASA is so bad off because it is part of this cancer. It needs to be pulled out of that or it will never be relevant.

      • (Score: 2) by aristarchus on Wednesday March 28 2018, @08:58PM (3 children)

        by aristarchus (2645) on Wednesday March 28 2018, @08:58PM (#659681) Journal

        we don't have infinite resources and time available.

        Where do you get this rather curious idea from, khallow? Makes you sound like an idiot Republican arguing that the Government must have a balanced budget, because individuals and families must, and you know, reasons! Of course we have infinite resources and time! Mostly because we have infinite time. It is possible that we do not, but we do not know this for certain. But having infinite time entails we have infinite resources, even if we do not have them right now. So the question is, does the James Webb funding, even with increases, preclude a more fruitful alternative in the near term? If not, there is no reason not to go ahead with it. Other than some people's ideological tendency toward cheapness and anti-governmentcy.

        • (Score: 1) by khallow on Thursday March 29 2018, @12:18AM (2 children)

          by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Thursday March 29 2018, @12:18AM (#659780) Journal

          It is possible that we do not, but we do not know this for certain.

          So it would be quite reasonable to have our $8 billion telescope produced 1000 years from now? It's just infinite time, no rush right?

          • (Score: 2) by aristarchus on Thursday March 29 2018, @12:27AM (1 child)

            by aristarchus (2645) on Thursday March 29 2018, @12:27AM (#659783) Journal

            On the other hand, the James Webb just might spot a Vogon Constructor Fleet! How much would such timely information be worth?

            • (Score: 1) by khallow on Thursday March 29 2018, @05:43PM

              by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Thursday March 29 2018, @05:43PM (#660092) Journal
              So... maybe we don't have infinite time? Who knew?