The launch is now planned for October 2021: a sloppy 14 (!) Years later than originally hoped.

NASA has set a new launch date for the space telescope James Webb. The telescope must now go into the air on October 31, 2021. And with that, the launch date that NASA set very convincingly in 2018 – March 30, 2021 – is finally off the table and the mission is again delayed.

Last month, NASA already cautiously hinted that the March 30, 2021 launch date was not attainable. And now it is final. There are two reasons for the launch being postponed again. For example, there are still some ‘technical challenges’ that NASA has to face and that takes extra time. In addition, the corona crisis also throws a spanner in the works. For example, fewer people can work on the telescope at the same time.

“Webb is the most complex space observatory ever and remains our number one scientific priority,” said Thomas Zurbuchen on behalf of NASA. “And we worked hard to make progress even during the pandemic. The team will continue to focus on the milestones to be reached and find technical solutions to help us reach the new launch date. ”

It is certainly not the first time that the space telescope James Webb has to deal with delays. Initially, NASA expected that the telescope could be launched sometime between 2007 and 2011. However, as work on the telescope progressed, it became clear that construction was a lot more difficult than expected, and NASA was repeatedly forced to postpone the launch. First to 2013. Later to 2018. And then spring 2019. A little later May 2020. Then spring 2021 and now it seems that it will be autumn 2021.

8.8 billion
But James Webb is not only plagued by huge delays. The telescope is also much more expensive than hoped. Where the costs were previously estimated at between $ 1 and 3.5 billion, the telescope is ultimately estimated to cost about 8.8 billion. Although the telescope’s launch has now been delayed by another six months, NASA does not expect costs to exceed the $ 8.8 billion mark. “Judging by the current projections, the experts expect the remaining work to be completed within the new schedule and with no additional resources required,” said Gregory Robinson, on behalf of NASA.

The fact that the costs are so high and that so much more time is needed to develop the telescope has everything to do with the fact that James Webb is a particularly complex observatory. For example, the main mirror consists of eighteen separate mirrors that must behave together as one large mirror. The enormous size of the telescope also presents challenges. For example, to fit into the five-meter-wide nose of a launcher, the telescope must be carefully folded and then unfolded later in space – 1.5 million kilometers from Earth. Once fully extended, the telescope – which, in addition to a 6.5-meter-high main mirror, also has enormous solar panels – is about the same size as a tennis court.

DID YOU KNOW … … it hadn’t

mattered much or the James Webb telescope hadn’t been there at all? After the development of the telescope started in 2004, it soon became clear in the years that it was a much more expensive project than expected. And in 2011, a committee of the United States House of Representatives proposed to delete the telescope. At the time, however, billions had already been spent developing required new technologies. The telescope survived the proposal and a new route plan was drawn up and a new budget was drawn up. To date, NASA remains well within that budget. But the launch date that was proposed in 2011 – sometime in 2018 – has been behind us for a while now.

After years of hard work, the James Webb telescope is now assembled. But in the coming months, its various elements have yet to be extensively tested. And it is not about overnight. Because if only one element onboard the $ 8.8 billion telescope doesn’t work properly, it could have a huge impact on the mission.

And so we have to be patient. But the telescope – if it lives up to all expectations – is worth the wait. Namely, the James Webb telescope is the most powerful space telescope ever built and is expected to be able to capture the light from some of the early stars and galaxies and provide more insight into what the universe looked like relatively shortly after it was created. . In addition, the telescope will fluff out the atmosphere of exoplanets in search of traces of life. Spectacular space photographs are also expected.

Incidentally, we probably do not expect those beautiful images and possibly revolutionary data in 2021 either. It can take a few months before James Webb – after it has been launched – is actually operational. For now, there is little else to do but be patient and very hopeful that NASA will reach the new launch date.

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