New JWST Launch Date, Budget Set By NASA

In this episode, the verdict is in. After reading and responding to the independent review of the JWST mission, NASA announced today a new launch date and an updated cost analysis. It looks like JWST will launch on March 30, 2021

7449 Views | Published on 28th Jun, 2018

Hello Space Fans and welcome to another edition of Space Fan News. In this episode, the verdict is in. After reading and responding to the independent review of the James Webb Space Telescope mission, NASA announced today a new launch date and an updated cost analysis. It looks like JWST will launch on March 20, 2021 and will cost an additional billion dollars, bringing the total cost of the mission to 9.5 billion dollars.

During a telecon held earlier today for the press, NASA outlined it’s response to the independent review that has been going on for the JWST mission since last March when Northrop Grumman announced it was taking a really, really long time to test the sun shield that will protect and cool the telescope from solar radiation.

They also managed to drop some bits in the telescope and made some small tears in the sun shield that had to be repaired.

Well as you can imagine, this really irked NASA and because of the stakes involved, they were required to perform an independent study to check on the mission and determine how to proceed.

The report was released about a month ago and NASA spent that time digesting it and formulating a response. There’s a link in the description box below to that document along with the report if you want to take a look for yourself.

What did the report say? After recognizing that the science that will come from JWST will be ‘awesome’ and that this is the most complicated scientific instrument ever put into space, the main problems found were related to inexperience with the new technologies involved (specifically the sun shield), human mistakes and errors, excessive optimism in the integration and testing phase and other embedded errors.

Everyone agrees that this mission is one where the stakes are exceedingly high and all practical measures must be taken to ensure the success of the mission. They point not only to the integration and testing issues, but that we also need to be extremely confident in the launch system.

If you’ll recall, JWST will be launched on an Arianne V rocket from French Guiana and the report explicitly called out making sure it was up to the task. There have been some problems with the space port there, not related to the launch vehicles, but with social unrest in the surrounding area, and I think the panel wanted some reassurance that ESA was going to be able to handle the launch.

Without boring you with lots of details, the report recommended doing lots of things and NASA agreed that they all needed to be done. It was interesting to me that one point was the morale of the employees at Northrop Grumman. As I read this, the employees had been working six day work weeks under lots of stress and the morale was poor.

Situations like that invite mistakes and the report recommended a five day work week with normal hours. That, of course, went into the timescale for the new launch window, which is now set for March 20, 2021 a whopping 1007 days from today.

This delay, along with the other recommendations from the panel will increase the cost by a billion dollars and if you think about it, that’s about one million dollars a day. One billion over 1007 days.

One reporter pointed out during the teleconference that the total price tag for JWST is approaching that of one aircraft carrier.

Personally, I’d rather spend the money on this.

OK, so now we have a delay of 2 years, 9 months, 3 days that will cost an extra billion dollars. What’s next?

Well, NASA has agreed to 30 of the 31 recommendations and agreed with the intent of the last one so they are busy implementing the changes which include more oversight of Northrop Grumman, more realistic testing schedules, making sure ESA can launch the thing, making sure that the Space Telescope Science Institute can actually handle ground operations, and vastly improving the integration and testing procedures.

But here’s the thing that worries me: because of the cost breach, Congress has to approve the new budget before they can proceed past the money they’ve already been given. Given how ineffective our government is right now at actually going about the business of governing, it’s not clear they’ll get this money.

If they don’t it’s game over for JWST and NASA admits they don’t know the political climate well enough to know if they’ll get the reapproval.

Also worrying me is that I’m not sure Northrop-Grumman can handle more problems if they develop. If something else unforseen goes wrong, JWST may be in really big trouble.

Look, I can already predict some of the comments you’ll be leaving “Get rid of it” “Cancel the project and spend the money on other more worthwhile things” and more comment that will be quite colorful.

But remember this: there are lots of other science missions coming down the pike, both space and ground based, that depend on JWST launching and doing it’s science: TESS is already up there providing targets for JWST to look at and the exoplanet side of JWST alone will be severely hurt if JWST doesn’t launch. WFIRST will also be badly impacted and the whole mission may need to be rethought because the science of JWST will never have gotten done.

Also, that money is gone. If JWST gets cancelled, that’s 8 billion dollars that nobody’s getting back. That money’s been spent and you don’t get to say, for example, let’s spend it on WFIRST or some other worthwhile science program. It’s just wasted, and to me, that will be a crime.

So I don’t care. I’m sorry but I don’t care if JWST costs as much as an aircraft carrier. We have to do this and since I live in a country that spends almost 700 billion dollars on the military alone, I don’t see the problem. We can do with one less aircraft carrier in my humble opinion.

Well that’s it for this episode Space Fans, thanks to all of the Deep Astronomy Patreon Patrons for supporting our work here on this humble YouTube channel. Thanks to all of you for watching and always, Keep Looking Up!


Read the Independent Review Board Report and NASA's response here:
https://www.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/atoms/files/webb_irb_report_and_response_0.pdf


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