NASA has confirmed that the launch of the James Webb Telescope has been delayed after work had to be halted with the outbreak of a global pandemic. The delay is the latest in a long line of setbacks that has seen the project’s budget and timeline swell.
During an online presentation to the Space Studies Board of the National Academies, NASA Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate Thomas Zurbuchen confirmed that James Webb would not be launched in March 2021.
“We will not launch in March,” he said. “That is not in the cards right now. It’s not because they did anything wrong.”
The telescope had been undergoing integration and testing at a Northrop Grumman Space Systems facility in California when the first cases of coronavirus began to be reported in the US. In March, NASA and Northrop restricted access to the facility to essential personnel only, which greatly affected the work being done on the James Webb Telescope.
Although restrictions have recently been lifted somewhat, staff are still working under a reduced capacity. This has meant that twelve ten-hour shifts a week devoted to project pre-pandemic has been reduced to just five eight-hour shifts.
Despite the challenges facing the NASA and Northrop teams as they struggle to complete integrating and testing the James Webb Telescope, Zurbuchen remained confident that it would still be launched in 2021. “I’m very optimistic of this thing getting off the launch pad in ‘21,” he said.