NASA delays James Webb Space Telescope launch to 2021

The Independent Review Board (IRB) established by NASA to assess progress on the Webb telescope has unanimously recommended that development on it should continue. Reuters file photo.

The launch of NASA's James Webb Space Telescope - world's premier science observatory - has been further delayed to March 2021, a move that will cost the agency an additional USD 8.8 billion.

The telescope was expected to launch in 2020.

The Independent Review Board (IRB) established by NASA to assess progress on the Webb telescope has unanimously recommended that development on it should continue.

The report issued by the review board addresses a range of factors influencing Webb's schedule and performance, including the technical challenges and tasks remaining by primary contractor Northrop Grumman before launch.

"Webb should continue based on its extraordinary scientific potential and critical role in maintaining US leadership in astronomy and astrophysics," said Tom Young, the chair of the review board.

"Ensuring every element of Webb functions properly before it gets to space is critical to its success." Young said.

The board also reaffirmed Webb's significant complexity, incredible scientific potential, and importance to astrophysics. The report includes several recommendations for moving forward, some of which NASA has already initiated.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine sent a message to the NASA workforce Wednesday about the report.

"Webb is vital to the next generation of research beyond NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. It's going to do amazing things - things we've never been able to do before - as we peer into other galaxies and see light from the very dawn of time," said Bridenstine.

"Despite major challenges, the board and NASA unanimously agree that Webb will achieve mission success with the implementation of the board's recommendations, many of which already are underway," he said.

"The more we learn more about our universe, the more we realise that Webb is critical to answering questions we didn't even know how to ask when the spacecraft was first designed," said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate.

The agency previously had estimated an earlier launch date, but awaited findings from the IRB before making a final determination and considered data from Webb's Standing Review Board.

The telescope's new total lifecycle cost, to support the revised launch date, is estimated at USD 9.66 billion; its new development cost estimate is USD 8.8 billion.

From detecting the light of the first stars and galaxies in the distant universe, to probing the atmospheres of exoplanets for possible signs of habitability, Webb's world-class science not only will shed light on the many mysteries of the universe, it also will complement and further enhance the discoveries of other astrophysics projects.

The first telescope of its kind, and an unprecedented feat of engineering, Webb is at the very leading edge of technological innovation and development. 

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NASA delays James Webb Space Telescope launch to 2021

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