NASA finally began preparing the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) for testing Thursday, but the project is way behind schedule and over budget.
New video shows the telescope being moved onto a mobile stand for testing, but the project was slated to be in space by 2011. NASA announced last December that the JWST was halfway completed, but the project is currently $7.2 billion over its initial budget and seven years behind the original schedule. The JWST was initially projected to cost $1.6 billion.
The Government Accountability Office now estimates the final cost at $8.8 billion, and NASA has now scheduled the telescope for an October 2018 launch, adding to the telescope’s long history of major cost overruns and delays.
JWST is relatively tiny compared to larger Earth-based telescopes, but its infrared capabilities and position above the atmosphere could allow it to locate potentially habitable planets around other stars, perhaps even extraterrestrial life.
The telescope is being assembled at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.
JWST isn’t the first NASA space telescope to suffer cost overruns and setbacks. The space agency’s Hubble Space Telescope (HST) was originally intended to launch in 1983, but technical issues delayed the launch until 1990. NASA discovered that HST’s main mirror was incorrectly manufactured after the launch, forcing the space agency to install a corrective lens in orbit using the Space Shuttle.
JWST will not have such a generous margin for error as it will be located far beyond Earth’s orbit at the Sun-Earth L2 LaGrange point, which would make such a Hubble style fix extremely difficult. Furthermore, the telescope is supposed to unfold itself “origami style” in space as depicted in the NASA animation below. The unfolding process is technically complicated and could potentially lead to a disastrous mission failure.
If such a failure occurs, NASA doesn’t have the capacity to fix the JWST.
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