Saturday, 21 April, 2018

JWST: Hubble 'successor' faces new delay

An artist's representation of the completed James Webb Space Telescope An artist’s representation of the completed James Webb Space Telescope Northrop Grumman
Edmund Robinson | 29 March, 2018, 02:29

"Simply put, we have one shot to get this right before going into space", said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate. As per the new information, NASA will submit the new report to Congress very soon.

"Webb is the highest priority project for the agency's Science Mission Directorate, and the largest global space science project in USA history", said Robert Lightfoot, NASA's Acting Administrator, "All the observatory's flight hardware is now complete, however, the issues brought to light with the spacecraft element are prompting us to take the necessary steps to refocus our efforts on the completion of this ambitious and complex observatory". NASA said Tuesday the delay was caused by a mix of "avoidable technical errors" and estimates for testing that proved too optimistic.

The James Webb Space Telescope is intended as the successor to Hubble, which is now more than 25 years old. There's an instrument module, which contains four scientific devices to process what the mirrors see.

Designed by Northrop Grumman, the spacecraft's five-layered sunshield, which acts like a giant parasol, is the size of a tennis court.

The James Webb Space Telescope, whose total cost is expected to exceed $ 9 billion, will not be launched until May 2020, NASA recently announced. The problems seem to stem from the spacecraft element. The spacecraft's propulsion system also had its share of trouble. For instance, scientists were able to install the sun shield which took over a month while the ability to fold and stow took two months of time which has led to series of delays. The agency is 70% confident that the telescope now will be ready for action in May 2020, Zurbuchen said on a conference call with reporters.

Officials also said they overestimated how long it would take to practice the deployment sequence of the Webb, which will launch curled up and then unfurl once in orbit. Once that is done, environmental testing will be conducted at Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems in Redondo Beach, California.




Its launch is now delayed because the device, which will have the ability to observe in the infra-red spectrum, is currently "in the final phase of integration and tests that will take longer to ensure the success of the mission", admitted NASA in a statement. Management of JWST at Northrop Grumman will now directly report to the company's president.

Altogether, these small fixes point to a big problem.

Allied to instruments that are sensitive in the infrared, Webb will be tuned to detect the faint, "stretched" glow of objects that originally shone more than 13.5 billion years ago. "Now, it looks like we have a ways to go before we cross the finish line".

Add to that the spacecraft's complex transition from its launch configuration, during which its large sunshield and primary mirror will be folded up, to its final design, with a 6.5-meter primary mirror (Hubble's is just over 2 meters) and a sunshield spanning almost 70 x 47 feet (21 x 14 meters), and testing the telescope's many components becomes vital. They are undergoing tests before being joined together for further tests of the conditions they'll experience during launch and in space, before finally being shipped to French Guiana for launch.

There is little doubt that the JWST will launch someday. Webb is an worldwide project led by NASA with its partners, ESA (European Space Agency), and CSA (Canadian Space Agency).

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