The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has delayed the launch of its $8 billion Hubble space telescope successor, James Webb Space Telescope.
The announcement was made on Tuesday by NASA after analysing the remaining tasks for the highly complex space observatory. NASA administrator Robert Lightfoot said, “Webb is the highest priority project for the agency's Science Mission Directorate, and the largest international space science project in US history.”
Lightfoot added, “All the observatory's flight hardware is now complete, however, the issues brought to light with the spacecraft element are prompting us to take the necessary steps to refocus our efforts on the completion of this ambitious and complex observatory.”
The NASA had announced that more time is needed for testing the James Webb Space Telescope, which is currently undergoing final integration. The space telescope’s previous year of launched was said to be 2019, but since more time is needed, the launch will now be targeted for May 2020.
NASA tweeted “Our @NASAWebb Space Telescope is currently undergoing final integration & test phases that will require more time to ensure a successful mission. Webb's previously revised 2019 launch window is now targeted for approximately May 2020. Details: http://go.nasa.gov/2I6760k.”
Our @NASAWebb Space Telescope is currently undergoing final integration & test phases that will require more time to ensure a successful mission. Webb's previously revised 2019 launch window is now targeted for approximately May 2020. Details: https://t.co/q0z7nK7oE9 pic.twitter.com/wYrsSK58rb— NASA (@NASA) March 27, 2018
NASA will also be setting up an external Independent Review Board (IRB) to analyse organisational and technical issues in the James Webb. The board will be chaired by Thomas Young, a NASA veteran.
The IRB will add views and confidence up NASA’s approach to complete the final integration and test phase of the mission, while side by side helping it to launch the campaign by commissioning as well as deploying sequence.
NASA will then consider the board’s findings and recommendations, looking into it and then define a more specific time for the launch frame.
NASA will also work with its partner European Space Agency (ESA) to give a launch date for the Ariane 5 vehicle, which will launch the James Webb into space. Once the date is decided, the space agency will provide a cost estimate, projected to be $8 billion, to complete the final test phasing of the space telescope.
Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, said, “Considering the investment NASA and our international partners have made, we want to proceed systematically through these last tests, with the additional time necessary, to be ready for a May 2020 launch.”
The James Webb is yet to undergo environmental testing, which will subject it to vibrational, acoustic, and thermal environments which will be experienced by it during the launch and operations.
According to NASA, the James Webb space telescope will be “the world’s premier infrared space observatory and the biggest astronomical space science telescope ever built, complementing the scientific discoveries of NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and other science missions.”