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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: 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.