NASA's James Webb Telescope is Delayed Yet Again After Failing Its Latest Tests

Tuesday, 27 March 2018 - 6:41PM
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Tuesday, 27 March 2018 - 6:41PM
NASA's James Webb Telescope is Delayed Yet Again After Failing Its Latest Tests
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NASA
Once it's finally in space, the James Webb Space Telescope will be one of the most powerful telescopes in NASA's arsenal. Which is part of the reason they need everything to be working perfectly.

And as the James Webb telescope started undergoing what were supposed to be its final tests and adjustments, it's clear that everything isn't working perfectly just yet. In response, NASA has just released a statement announcing that the telescope won't be meeting its June 2019 launch deadline, and is now scheduled for a delayed launch in 2020.



The 21 foot-long (6.5 meters) telescope has been plagued with issues throughout its construction, such as leaking thruster valves and a recent test of its solar shield membranes failed as they never deployed. According to NASA, while the telescope half and the spacecraft half of the telescope seem to be functioning right now, they haven't run enough tests while the two halves were integrated to be sure that they'll work properly. 

Those solar shields will be important, because unlike its predecessor Hubble - which is in low-Earth orbit and can be reached when in need of repairs - the James Webb telescope will be in a distant orbit around the sun. It won't go nearly as close as NASA's Parker Solar Probe (which is studying the sun), but it will still be almost a million miles away from Earth, far enough out that we won't have any way to repair it in case something goes wrong.

Acting NASA administrator Robert Lightfoot, who's stepping down next month without a clear successor just yet, said the following in a press statement:

Opening quote
"Webb is the highest priority project for the agency's Science Mission Directorate, and the largest international space science project in U.S. history. 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."
Closing quote




With this decision made, NASA will need to draft up an entirely new schedule and budget to continue work on old James Webb. But it'll be worth it once the telescope is in space; it's much more powerful than the Hubble telescope and has 100 times the field of view, and it'll be looking at exoplanets orbiting distant stars and other distant objects that can show us what the early universe looked like.

But NASA was hoping to launch this well before their next Mars probe, and that's just not an option anymore. But better that it's late and works properly, as opposed to breaking down somewhere in our solar system.
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