Pandemic causes new delay for launch of James Webb Space Telescope
NASA and ESA have announced that the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope has been delayed once again. Thanks largely to the COVID-19 pandemic, the launch will be bumped to October 2021.
The decision to delay comes from a recently-completed schedule risk assessment. This review process examined the testing and preparation tasks that still need to be conducted before launch, to determine whether they could still be completed before the previous launch target of March 2021.
Unfortunately, the assessment concluded that this wasn’t going to happen. Things have slowed down considerably due to the ongoing pandemic, and the resulting safety precautions, reduced on-site personnel, and disruptions to shift timings were all factors contributing to the need for a delay.
Ironically, the assessment itself also suffered a delay thanks to the virus – it was originally scheduled for April, but was only just completed this week.
The agencies made it clear that the delay wouldn’t blow out the budget, however. The program will tap into existing funding.
“Based on current projections, the program expects to complete the remaining work within the new schedule without requiring additional funds,” says Gregory Robinson, NASA Webb program director.
This is just the latest in a long line of delays for the James Webb. In its current form it was originally scheduled for launch in October 2018, then it slipped to June 2019, then to mid-2020, then March 2021 and now, its (hopefully) final launch date of October 2021.
Despite the setbacks, progress is still being made. Electrical testing of the observatory was completed this week, and acoustics and vibration environment tests will be undertaken in August. Early next year, the telescope will be folded up and shipped to its eventual launch site in French Guiana, South America. There, it will be packed into the Ariane 5 launch vehicle fairing.
Once in space, the James Webb Space Telescope will build on the legacies of Hubble and Spitzer, examining the cosmos in infrared much deeper than ever before. In doing so, it will study the earliest light in the universe, and give us a more detailed look at the atmospheres of distant exoplanets.