NASA has announced that the launch of its James Webb Space Telescope will be delayed. The delay is the latest for a program that has been fraught with delays and cost overruns.
During a live update on the progress of the James Webb program, NASA Science Mission Directorate associate administrator, Thomas Zubuchen announced the launch of the telescope would be delayed until October 21, 2021. Zubuchen confirmed that this latest delay had been largely driven by challenges caused by the ongoing pandemic.
“Webb is the world’s most complex space observatory and our top science priority, and we’ve worked hard to keep progress moving during the pandemic,” said Zubuchen.
Although the new launch date was only announced on July 16, the possibility of another delay had been floated by Zubuchen more than a month ago. “We will not launch in March,” he said during a Space Studies Board of the National Academies presentation. “That is not in the cards right now. It’s not because they did anything wrong.”
Despite the additional delay to the program, NASA has confirmed that the remaining work will be completed without the need for additional funds.
The initial $824.8 million prime contract for the James Webb Space Telescope was awarded in 2003 and had a proposed launch date of 2010. In 2005, a re-plan allocated approximately $4.5 billion to the program in what was the first major cost overrun. It would, however, not be the last.
In February 2019, Congress approved the latest increase to the mission’s cost cap allocating an additional $800 million. By October of that year, it was estimated that the James Webb Space Telescope would cost $10 billion, an amount that did not include post-development operations, which had been estimated in 2005 to cost as much as $1 billion over ten years.
Although the program has become somewhat of a farce, its importance cannot be denied. The telescope’s 6.5-meter primary mirror is the largest ever deployed in space. It will assist researchers and scientists answer the mysteries of our solar system, look beyond to distant worlds around other stars, and probe the mystifying structures and origins of our universe.