For more than 25 years, the Hubble Space Telescope has wowed us with breathtaking images. But technology is leaving Hubble behind. And our thirst for more knowledge. NASA is hard at work on its replacement, the James Webb Space Telescope. An $8 billion-plus spacecraft that will peer deeper into the cosmos. And also take a closer look at the hundreds of exoplanets discovered so far.
NASA was gearing up for a launch next October. Was.
This week, NASA announced the launch of the telescope would slip from October 2018 to Spring 2019. That’s anywhere between March and June of 2019. In a press release, NASA says the delay is not “indicative of hardware or technical performance concerns.” But, “the integration of the various spacecraft is taking longer than expected.”
NASA’s team went through a routine assessment to gauge the progress of the spacecraft and if everything was on schedule. According to NASA, testing of the telescope and other science instruments is going smoothly at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. It’s the spacecraft the telescope is mounted onto that is the issue. Testing and integration at Northrop Grumman in Redondo Beach, California are behind schedule.
Because of this, NASA opted to delay the launch by six to nine months.
The space agency also says the telescope’s existing budget accommodates the change in launch date.
Eric Smith, the program director for the James Webb Space Telescope, touches on the intricacies of the spacecraft.
“Webb’s spacecraft and sunshield are larger and more complex than most spacecraft. The combination of some integration activities taking longer than initially planned, such as the installation of more than 100 sunshield membrane release devices, factoring in lessons learned from earlier testing, like longer time spans for vibration testing, has meant the integration and testing process is just taking longer.”
Add in the $8 billion price tag, and NASA wants to get it right at launch. They don’t want a repeat of Hubble’s mirror goof.
Space fans (myself included) have been looking forward to James Webb for years. It’s designed to look into the distant universe and capture light from the first galaxies and stars, gaze through dust clouds that kept stars hidden from Hubble, and study the atmospheres of exoplanets light-years away from Earth. James Webb most likely won’t find life, but it could tell us if the conditions for it are lurking in other star systems.