This week, the US space agency announced that March 30, 2021 will be the new launch date for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). The technical errors cost this entity almost 10,000 million dollars in losses.
After several years of work and budgetary fights with the US Congress, everything seemed to be ready so that next autumn NASA will launch into space the most ambitious space telescope ever built by humans: the James Webb. However, that ambition was frustrated because a report hired by NASA indicated that the project still has huge technical flaws that would make it unfeasible for it to function properly.
According to the report of the contractor Northrop Grumman, technical problems, including human errors, have had a great impact on the development schedule. “Ensuring that every element of Webb works properly before it reaches space is critical to its success,” said Tom Young, chairman of the review board.
According to the report, the enormous complexity of the project will require the United States to invest an additional 9.66 billion dollars to the project, and an additional 10-month delay.
The delay is not seen with good eyes among American politicians, who eight years ago fought hard with NASA for the huge budget that this colossal project requires.
According to the New York Times, Nasa eight years ago convinced the legislators – who wanted to cancel the project – to approve a budget of maximum $ 8,000 million dollars. With the existing delays, and with these new ones, the cost rises to 9,600. And it’s not clear if lawmakers approved the addition of $ 876 million of this new delay.
That’s why Young, who chaired the review board, noted that “Webb must continue based on its extraordinary scientific potential and its pivotal role in maintaining US leadership in astronomy and astrophysics.”
And it is not about any telescope. The Webb will be twice as big as Hubble, currently the most sophisticated space telescope, jointly built by scientists from NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA).
A cosmic feat
Webb will be able to detect the light of the first stars and galaxies in the distant universe, to explore the atmospheres of the exoplanets in search of possible signs of habitability.
Webb will be folded, origami-style, for its launch inside the fairing of the Ariane 5 rocket, which is about 5 meters wide. After its launch, the observatory will complete an intricate series of deployments, one of the most critical parts of Webb’s trip to its final orbit, approximately 1.5 million kilometers from Earth.
When fully deployed, the primary mirror of Webb will have an extension of more than 6.5 meters. This mirror makes its ability to collect visible light, as well as infrared and ultraviolet light data will be twice that of the Hubble telescope.
But to collect infrared light data the telescope must be extremely cold, so it will have a kind of umbrella that will protect it from solar radiation. This sunscreen will be about the size of a tennis court.
It was precisely this enormous protector that was one of the worst faults of the telescope during the tests carried out by NASA. It broke, according to the New York Times, and several cables failed to keep it attached to the telescope.
Thomas Zarbuchen, the administrator of the agency for space science, told that newspaper that each day of delay costs Nasa a million dollars, but that “Webb is worth it”.
Due to its size and complexity, the process of integration and testing of parts is more complicated than that of an average scientific mission. Once the element of the spacecraft has completed its battery of tests, it will be integrated with the telescope and the element of the science instrument, which passed its tests last year.
The fully assembled observatory will undergo a series of challenging environmental tests and a final deployment test before it is sent to the launch site in Kourou, French Guiana.