Photo: Michael Ciaglo, Staff
The launch date of NASA's problem-plagued, $8 billion James Webb Space Telescope is changing once again, but the new schedule won't be announced until later this month, officials said Monday.
The telescope, the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, was initially expected to launch in 2007 but has faced repeated delays and burgeoning costs. The launch date most recently was delayed to May 2020, which will likely push project costs over the $8 billion cap set by Congress in 2011.
The mission has been so problematic that a 10-member, Independent Review Board was tasked with reviewing it. They presented their findings to top NASA officials last month, who will then use that information to "define the new launch schedule," a NASA spokesperson said Monday.
"After the launch date is established, NASA will be able to provide a new cost estimate," the statement read.
The Webb telescope is one of NASA's most complex and expensive projects to date, meant to revolutionize the world's understanding of planet and star formation.
Initially, it was expected to cost $1 billion and be launched in 2007. That price tag later jumped to $3.5 billion with a launch target of 2011. It has continued to increase since then with the most recent missed launch targeted for June 2019.
Last month, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine told U.S. Senators that the space agency likely will ask for more money for the project beyond the $8 billion funding cap set by Congress in 2011.
"We have spent so much money at this point that it's important" we continue, Bridenstine said during a U.S. Senate committee meeting. "We have to come to a meeting of the minds and figure out how do we go forward with the program if we need to go above the cap set by Congress."
President Donald Trump's budget proposal for NASA in the coming budget year includes funds to keep the project on track. However, it would cancel Webb's successor, the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), "due to its significant cost and higher priorities within NASA," according to a budget document.
WFIRST was being built to study dark energy, exoplanets and infrared astrophysics, and the National Academy of Sciences recommended that it follow Webb.
But the cost of the project, set to be launched in the mid-2020s, has ballooned to $3.6 billion, well above initial projections.
Since Trump's proposed budget must be approved by Congress, work on WFIRST is continuing in the interim.
Alex Stuckey covers NASA and the environment for the Houston Chronicle. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter.com/alexdstuckey.