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article imageJames Webb space telescope launch date pushed to 2020

By Karen Graham     Apr 1, 2018 in Science
NASA has announced a further delay to the James Webb Space Telescope’s launch. The agency had been targeting March-June 2019 for the much-heralded telescope’s liftoff, but technical problems and "avoidable errors" have pushed the launch date to 2020.
For decades, astronomers have been waiting for the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope, a successor to the iconic Hubble Space Telescope. And this past week, they learned there will be additional delays when NASA officials said the launch had been pushed from the spring of 2019 to possibly May of 2020.
One of the problems foreseen in the delay is that it will certainly end up costing hundreds of millions of dollars, surpassing the $8.8 billion cost cap mandated by Congress. This means legislators will either provide more funding or end up scrapping the project.
At a Goddard cleanroom  technicians unveil the James Webb Observatory’s segmented mirror in prepar...
At a Goddard cleanroom, technicians unveil the James Webb Observatory’s segmented mirror in preparation for an alignment test this summer. The tool used to determine the segments’ alignment has inspired Goddard technologists to create another that offers picometer accuracy for next-generation observatories.
NASA/Chris Gunn
Problems start cropping up
The once-in-every-10-years survey - The decadal survey - is a program produced by the National Academies that assesses the research landscape and makes recommendations to federal agencies and Congress about developing and funding future generations of ground- and space-based telescopes.
The next decadal survey was scheduled to occur when the James Webb telescope had begun operations, however, it looks like the Webb telescope will still be on the ground - and that won't be good for the science community.
Actually, the two most important, and expensive elements of the Webb telescope - the mirror and scientific instruments - are complete and have passed testing requirements. This led NASA to announce in November 2017 the James Webb Space Telescope was complete and would be launched in 2018.
Folding test of JWST sunshield
Folding test of JWST sunshield
Northrup Grumman
Over the next several months, the telescope underwent grueling tests that mimicked the conditions it will have to face in outer space. And with the final gold-coated segment of its 21-foot-wide mirror array in place, the telescope can now open up like an enormous sunflower.
“The groundbreaking sunshield design will assist in providing the imaging of the formation of stars and galaxies more than 13.5 billion years ago,” Webb sunshield manager Jim Flynn said in a statement last November. “The delivery of this final flight sunshield membrane is a significant milestone as we prepare for 2018 launch.”
Then, in February 2018, the components were delivered to Webb’s prime contractor, the aerospace company Northrop Grumman, for further testing and integration with the rest of the telescope. However, a report that same month from the Government Accountability Office warned the company had fallen behind schedule on the supposedly easier parts of the observatory.
Full-scale model of James Webb Space Telescope
Full-scale model of James Webb Space Telescope
Northup Grumman
As a result, the GAO warned that JWST was at risk of exceeding its $8 billion formulations and development cost cap prior to launch. The GAO also found that valves on the spacecraft’s thrusters had sprung leaks after being improperly cleaned, and it had taken the better part of a year to replace them.
And worse still, the tennis-court-size, five-layer folding “sunshield” had also been torn during a test as it unfurled, and required time-consuming analyses of the failure and time for repairs.
Before the announced slip last year to March-June 2019, JWST had been slated to launch in October 2018 – a date itself that was 11 years after the originally planned launch target of 2007 when the project was first conceived in 1997.
NASA s Hubble Space Telescope has revisited the famous Pillars of Creation  revealing a sharper and ...
NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has revisited the famous Pillars of Creation, revealing a sharper and wider view of the structures in this visible-light image. Astronomers combined several Hubble exposures to assemble the wider view. The towering pillars are about 5 light-years tall. The dark, finger-like feature at bottom right may be a smaller version of the giant pillars.
“Webb is the highest priority project for the agency’s science mission directorate, and the largest international space science project in U.S. history,” said acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot, who is retiring from the agency next month.
“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.”
Even though Northrup Grumman was put through the wringer by the GAO, Tim Paynter, a spokesman for the company says, "it remains steadfast in its commitment to NASA and ensuring successful integration, launch, and deployment of the James Webb Space Telescope, the world’s most advanced space telescope.”
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