NASA’s one of the most-awaited project is yet to get a green signal for launch. After coming up with several delays due to technicals snags and other issues that have tagged along with the process of its construction, assembly, integration, and testing, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) was destined to launch between May and June of 2019. However, NASA posted an official statement this Tuesday (March 27) stating that the project has been postponed and now, it will launch in May 2020. NASA indicated that the reason behind the delay is due to a slew of technicals snags with the tennis-court-size sun shield and other intricate systems of the space telescope.
The project was summoned by Congress which also sanctioned required funding for the telescope that will replace the quarter-century-old Hubble Space Telescope. However, with constant delays in its construction and integration, the telescope has racked up its price to $8.8 billion USD and counting.
As per Robert Lightfoot, acting Administrator at NASA, the hardware required in the telescope are completed, however, technical snags on the part of spacecraft are causing a lot of efforts. The space observatory will soon replace the now aging Hubble Space Telescope with its state-of-the-art 6.5meter mirror and capabilities to detect light in infrared wavelengths will make it easier for the scientists to peer deep into space and study the galaxies and stars that came into existence right after the Universe was created.
The enormous space observatory is made in two halves where the first is the telescope itself and another halve is a complication and huge sun shield that will protect the four science instruments and the entire observatory from the radiation and another host of damages from the Sun. Lightfoot added that although all the flight hardware has been completed, some of the components took longer than expected. For instance, scientists were able to install the sun shield which took over a month while the ability to fold and stow took two months of time which has led to series of delays.
The project saw other instances of errors and snags like when the cables that pull the sun shield developed too much slack and then, seven small tears were formed on the five independent membranes of the shield which needed proper redressal and that increase the construction time. Then, an incorrect solvent was pushed into the propulsion system which led to delays since engineers had to replace the valves to get rid of this issue. There are a bunch of other technical snags and errors that were mentioned by NASA throughout the years.
Last year in September, NASA was hoping to launch the telescope in 2018, however, due to issues with the assembly, the project launch was postponed to 2019. In a conference held on Tuesday, March 27, NASA officially stated that there will be another delay in the launch since the individual tasks that were destined to make JWST ready for its space journey took longer than expect. As of now, components of the observatory are at the Northrop Grumman’s satellite factory in Redondo Beach, California. Northrop is developing contractor for the telescope. Its other half i.e. the spacecraft is still under construction and ready arrived from the Goddard Space Flight Center and Johnson Space Center in Houston after overhauling. Thomas Zurbuchen who is the associate administrator at NASA’s science mission directorate stated that the tasks are taking longer and there are certain issues and errors that require proper rectification before the space observatory can get a nod to launch into space.
James Webb Space Telescope was proposed more than two decades ago and the estimated cost of the project was quoted at $1 billion USD that was sanctioned by the Congress. However, after years of being under construction, the cost has ballooned to over $10 billion USD that includes its launch and operational expenses. NASA will submit an official report to the Congress by late June citing the expenses and requirements of the project.
James Webb Space Telescope will be stationed at around 1.5 million kilometers from where its 6.5-meter mirror along with four science instruments fixed under the sun shield will enable the astronomers to see deep into the universe. It will help in studying the aftermath of the Big Bang as well as the formation of the galaxies soon after the Universe was created. It is also billed as a replacement for now-aging Hubble Space Telescope which has contributed by providing data in its 20-odd years of being in space.