November 11, 2010

James Webb Telescope Over Budget

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), a proposed successor to the Hubble Space Telescope currently under development at NASA, needs an additional $1.5 billion in funding in order to make its scheduled 2015 launch date, officials from the U.S. space agency said on Wednesday.

According to AP Science Writer Seth Borenstein, the reason for the inflated estimate is that certain key costs were not included as part of a July 2008 program review. The project, which initially was set to cost $3.5 billion before ballooning to $5 billion earlier this year, will now require a total of $6.5 billion in order to launch and operate, a NASA panel has revealed.

"That can happen only if NASA adds an extra $500 million in the next two years over current budget plans," Borenstein said in a Wednesday article. "If the agency can't get the extra money from Congress, it will ultimately cost even more and take longer to launch the telescope."

The panel, which was chaired by John Casani of NASA's Pasadena, California-based Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), reports that the project's original budget was, in the words of BBC News Science Correspondent Jonathan Amos, "insufficient and poorly phased."

"This is a very large complex project and to estimate something with any real degree of precision that's never been done before is a tough job," Casani told reporters, including Amos.

In a statement following the announcement, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said that the JWST Independent Comprehensive Review Panel report "makes clear that, while JWST technical performance has been consistent with the project plan, the cost performance and coordination have been lacking, and I agree with these findings."

Bolden said that he would be "reorganizing" the JWST Project and "assigning a new senior manager"¦ to lead this important effort." That new director, Bolden said, "will have a staff of technical and cost personnel provided by the Science Mission Directorate and report to the NASA associate administrator. This will ensure more direct reporting to me and increase the project's visibility within the agency's management structure."

The NASA administrator also said he was confident that the panel review "verified our assessment that JWST is technically sound, and that the project continues to make progress and meet its milestones." However, he added that he was "disappointed we have not maintained the level of cost control we strive to achieve" and said that the American space agency was "committed to finding a sustainable path forward for the program based on realistic cost and schedule assessments."

The Webb Telescope was announced more than a decade ago and was initially supposed to launch in 2007, according to Borenstein. It was later delayed until 2014, and now will be unable to launch until at least September 2015, the AP Science Writer added.


Image Caption: Six of the James Webb Space Telescope beryllium mirror segments undergoing a series of cryogenic tests at the X-ray & Cryogenic Facility at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Credit: NASA/MSFC/David Higginbotham/Emmett Given


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