NASA is putting the finishing touches on its new $8.8 billion dollar James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) — 7 years behind schedule.
The telescope was initially projected to cost $1.6 billion, but the Government Accountability Office (GAO) now puts the final cost at $8.8 billion. NASA scheduled the telescope for an October 2018 launch.
JWST was originally intended to be launched in 2011. NASA announced last December that the JWST was halfway completed.
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, Maryland.
The telescope is expected to cost $645.4 million in 2015 alone, making it account for roughly 13 percent of NASA’s annual science budget. The telescope has remained on schedule and within its budget since December 2014, but is at risk of further delays, according to the GAO.
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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