NASA May Slip Webb Space Telescope Launch as Late as 2024

By Keith Cowing
May 19, 2011
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NASA May Slip Webb Space Telescope Launch as Late as 2024

Industry sources report that Northrop Grumman will begin to layoff personnel working on the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) next month for budgetary and scheduling reasons. JWST was originally supposed to have been launched in 2007. This launch date has officially slipped to no earlier than 2017-2018. According to sources, NASA Associate Administrator Chris Scolese told a group of aerospace executives this week that running JWST at a rate of $375 million a year would result in a launch date of 2022-2024.

The cost of JWST has grown from an initial $1 billion estimate to $2 billion – then to $4 billion – and is now estimated to be $7 billion. In other words the cost increase sucks $6 billion out of NASA’s budget – money that would have otherwise gone to other space science projects.

If this continues, universities are going to see funds for non-JWST projects dry up. Contractors who might have had a chance to bid on other projects will now be forced to change their line of business to pursue other types of projects. The result of all of this will be loss of expertise int he work force in academia, the private sector – and at NASA.

NASA PAO has responded to NASA Watch stating: “The statement attributed to Chris Scolese is inaccurate. NASA is currently working with contractors and international partners to assess the budget and schedule and develop a sustainable path forward for the JWST program that is based on a realistic cost and schedule assessment. NASA is completing the assessments and developing a new baseline. NASA will complete its new baseline cost and schedule assessment for JWST in the summer of 2011. This information will be used in formulation of the FY 2013 budget request. A decision on JWST’s launch date is contingent upon the outcome of these activities.”

Keith’s 4:30 pm update: Note that NASA does not dispute the fact that Scolese mentioned that the annual $375 million spending rate would result in a slip to 2022-2024 – rather, that they are studying things … stay tuned.

Keith’s 7:15 pm update: According to Northrop Grumman’s spokesman Lon Rains “We are not planning a Webb layoff in June”.

NASA Watch stands by its sources.

SpaceRef co-founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.