Science

James Webb Telescope Launch Could Be Delayed

James Webb Telescope launch
By NASA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The upcoming James Webb Space Telescope is going through a tough time. Its initial launch has been delayed, and the U.S. Government Accountability Office has recently announced that the launch which was scheduled for June will be delayed again. According to GAO, the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope is being delayed due to technical issues. The further delays also mean that the project could exceed its $8 million cap, which was set by Congress in 2011, according to the agency.

“Given several ongoing technical issues, and the work remaining to test the spacecraft element and complete integration of the telescope and spacecraft combined with continuing slower-than-planned work at Northrop Grumman, we believe that the rescheduled launch window is likely unachievable,” the report from GAO stated.

The report focuses on various issues that Northrop Grumman faced during its assembly process, particularly workforce issues and technical challenges required to meet them. One of the most concerning issues of the James Webb Telescope launch are of the essential sunshield of the telescope.  Unfortunately it went through a serious malfunction. The essential sunshield is one of JWST’s six membrane tensioning systems.

Last year, it was noticed that eight out of 16 valves located in the thrusters were leaking above the acceptable level. Northrop Grumman found that the reason behind the leakage was erroneous handling by technicians. Nevertheless, the discovery wasn’t conclusive. The engineers needed to investigate the modules of the thrusters, refurbish and reattach them individually, which is the process that caused the JWST delays.

After previous delays, the JWST had only 1.5 schedule reserve months, although it is likely that there will be more delays. According to the GAO report,  there will be a meeting of the managing board for the telescope which will determine whether the June 2019 James Webb Telescope launch schedule can be met or not.

“Given remaining integration and test work ahead—the phase in development where problems are most likely to be found and schedules tend to slip—coupled with only 1.5 months of schedule reserves remaining to the end of the launch window, additional launch delays are likely,” the report states.

The JWST was named after James Webb, the former NASA administrator. It is going to be a large infrared telescope, with a primary mirror that measures 6.5 meters. The telescope will be the premier observatory and is going to come in handy to many astronomers around the world.

The telescope will observe and research every stage in the history of the universe, which includes the first luminous glows occurring at the time of the Big Bang, and also the creation of star systems that could also have the ability to support extraterrestrial life on planets that have similar conditions to Earth. The telescope is also going to study the evolution of the solar system. The James Webb Space Telescope is part of an international collaboration between NASA, the Canadian Space Agency, and the European Space Agency.