August 23, 2011

James Webb Space Telescope Costs Rise


NASA said that it will cost $8.7 billion to get the James Webb Space Telescope up and running in 2018, reports BBC News.

The new $2 billion higher assessment emerged from documents sent recently to the U.S. Congress.

The telescope is designed to be the successor of Hubble and will carry technologies capable of detecting the light from the first stars in the Universe.

Delays and cost overruns have plagued the project, and politicians want to can the James Webb project.

The House Appropriations Committee unveiled a 2012 budget for NASA last month that would terminate funding for the telescope.

NASA has defended the telescope and senior officials say it is one of the space agency's top priorities.

The observatory would feature the biggest mirror ever sent into orbit. 

An independent assessment last year suggested that the telescope's total cost has jumped from $3.5 billion to $5 billion and that continued delays would inflate the final bill beyond $6 billion.

NASA's newest review of the observatory said the project would cost $8.7 billion, according to a BBC report.  This price includes building, launch and operation costs.

The report said NASA would explain how to fund the revised baseline in the 2013 budget request to Congress.

The prime contractor for the telescope, Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems, said 75 percent of the mass of the telescope is in production or complete.

Other countries would be affected by dropping the project as well, most notably Europe.

Behind the U.S., European scientists have logged in the most hours of the current Hubble Space Telescope.  Also, last week, Exeter University was given 200 hours on Hubble to study the atmospheres of planets around distant stars.

The telescope would operate about 930,000 miles from Earth and would not be able to be serviced by astronauts. 

James Webb is not alone when it comes to underestimating initial costs. 

The original total cost estimate for the Hubble Space Telescope was about $400 million.  However, the initial costs to construct the telescope hit $2.5 billion, and the total cost of the elderly observatory today has hit $10 billion so far.


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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