NASA's James Webb Telescope is Breaking Down and Likely Delayed

Wednesday, 28 February 2018 - 7:08PM
Space
Technology
NASA
Wednesday, 28 February 2018 - 7:08PM
NASA's James Webb Telescope is Breaking Down and Likely Delayed
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NASA
Bad news, fans of giant space cameras: the James Webb telescope, intended as the new pinnacle of NASA's achievements, is in pretty bad shape.

The telescope is currently scheduled for launch in June 2019, and has already been rescheduled in the past because of issues with getting the entire satellite working properly. Now, a new report from the government states that it's incredibly unlikely that the James Webb will be ready for launch in June next year, and as such, the project is probably going to see further delays.

With a satellite as complex and intricate as the James Webb, it was always pretty much impossible that things would run completely smoothly. Even so, there have been more issues than expected, and while the mission currently still has a month and a half's grace period built into the preparation schedule, it's looking more and more like that isn't enough time to fix everything that's not functioning properly within the telescope.



Last year, it was found that half of the James Webb's thruster valves were leaking for unknown reasons. The solution to this problem wasn't fun, as it involved taking them all apart, stripping them, cleaning them, fixing them up, and reassembling all over again.

This wasn't all - the project has hit a literal snag, as the telescope's crucial solar shield membranes failed to deploy as needed during a test run. This is a big problem to fix, as if anything were to cause these to break while the telescope is in orbit, it would become effectively useless.

The contracting company that's working on the telescope, Northrop Grumman, had planned to reduce staff last year in anticipation of the telescope's completion. Instead, work has increased, as the full body of workers are engaged in round-the-clock 24 hour assembly of the telescope, operating in three ongoing shifts in a desperate if ultimately somewhat futile attempt to get the James Webb ready for launch.



According to the government's Accountability Office, these efforts still aren't enough to get the project back on track:

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"Given several ongoing technical issues, and the work remaining to test the spacecraft element and complete integration of the telescope and spacecraft, combined with continuing slower-than-planned work at Northrop Grumman, we believe that the rescheduled launch window is likely unachievable."
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This is bad news for the fate of the project, considering the US government's current attitude towards NASA's work in general. The longer this project stretches on, the more likely it might be that some bright spark will slash its funding and force NASA to make do.

What's more, additional delays to the James Webb could reflect badly on the upcoming WFIRST telescope, which will be the next big project once this one is complete. Funding for the WFIRST has already been reduced to save costs, and if the James Webb ends up dragging on endlessly, there's a greater danger that higher ups might consider the WFIRST to not be worth the cost, and cancel the project outright.

Here's hoping that things work out, and that, sooner rather than later, the James Webb can be made ready for launch. Otherwise, we may never get to see the wondrous images that this new telescope can provide, and the world will be a lot poorer as a result.
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