One week after a House subcommittee proposed terminating NASA's costly successor to the orbiting Hubble observatory, agency officials told an advisory panel Thursday that the James Webb Space Telescope can be launched as soon as 2018, but political realities could delay the mission's start well into the 2020s.
Following an independent assessment condemning JWST's management practices, NASA kicked off its own review to come up with a realistic projection of the flagship space telescope's projected launch date and total cost.
Rick Howard, NASA's JWST program director, said the agency determined the observatory could launch on a European Ariane 5 rocket as soon as October 2018, but it would require fresh funding.
And with the federal government focused on wrangling in debt, a budget increase for the troubled JWST project is unlikely. NASA officials were speaking to the agency's astrophysics advisory council, a board of senior researchers chartered to provide advice and input in major scientific and programmatic decisions.
"To get to [launch] in 2018, it's going to take a significant amount of new funds," Howard said.
But no one would say how much it will cost to launch the telescope in 2018. The White House has embargoed those figures until the Obama administration rolls out its fiscal year 2013 budget request next February.
Until then, scientists said, it will be difficult to persuade the astronomy and astrophysics communities JWST is still worth continued NASA investment, which is gobbling up the agency's dwindling space science budget and holding back the start of other missions.
18 August 2011
A pioneering instrument for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has completed testing in the UK. MIRI is a key European contribution to the mission, which will be a space telescope with a mirror seven times bigger in area than that of the Hubble Space Telescope.
The Mid-InfraRed Instrument (MIRI) will be used by astronomers to study faint comets circling the Sun, newly born faraway planets, regions of obscured star formation, and galaxies near the edge of the Universe. It must work at extremely low temperatures, of just 7 K above absolute zero or -266° C.
Managers at NASA replanning the James Webb Space Telescope program after an independent cost analysis found it over budget and behind schedule have concluded it will cost about $8.7 billion to finish the telescope in time for a launch in 2018 and operate it at the Earth-Sun L2 Lagrange point for five years.
An agency spokesman said Monday the revised figure — an increase of $3.6 billion over NASA’s most recent life-cycle-cost estimate for the big infrared space observatory — includes all development, launch operations and science costs.
Details of how the agency will pay the cost will be covered in the fiscal 2013 NASA budget request now in preparation, the spokesman says.
GREENBELT, Md. -- NASA's James Webb Space Telescope has reached a major milestone in its development. The mirrors that will fly aboard the telescope have completed the coating process at Quantum Coating Inc. in Moorestown, N.J.
The telescope's mirrors have been coated with a microscopically thin layer of gold, selected for its ability to properly reflect infrared light from the mirrors into the observatory's science instruments. The coating allows the Webb telescope's "infrared eyes" to observe extremely faint objects in infrared light. Webb's mission is to observe the most distant objects in the universe.
"Finishing all mirror coatings on schedule is another major success story for the Webb telescope mirrors," said Lee Feinberg, NASA Optical Telescope Element manager for the Webb telescope at the agency's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "These coatings easily meet their specifications, ensuring even more scientific discovery potential for the Webb telescope."
In addition to continued funding for the telescope the 2012 bill also allots the National Aeronautics and Space Administration $17.9 billion (a reduction of $509 million or 2.8 percent from the 2011 enacted level) and preserves NASA’s portfolio balanced among science, aeronautics, technology and human space flight investments, including the Orion Multipurpose Crew Vehicle, the heavy lift Space Launch System, and commercial crew development.