National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has pushed the planned launch of its USD 8.8 billion James Webb Space Telescope from October 2018 to the spring of 2019, citing spacecraft-integration issues. The successor to the famed Hubble Space Telescope, Webb will now launch between March and June 2019 from French Guiana, following a schedule assessment of the remaining integration and test activities, NASA said.
The telescope will be the world’s most powerful space telescope ever built, serving thousands of astronomers worldwide, according to the US space agency.
The 6.5-metre diameter infrared-optimised telescope is designed to study an extremely wide range of astrophysical phenomena, including the first stars and galaxies that formed, the atmospheres of nearby planets outside our solar system, and objects within our own solar system.
“The change in launch timing is not indicative of hardware or technical performance concerns,” associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate Thomas Zurbuchen said. “Rather, the integration of the various spacecraft elements is taking longer than expected,” Zurbuchen added.
As part of an international agreement with the European Space Agency (ESA) to provide a desired launch window one year prior to launch, NASA recently performed a routine schedule assessment to ensure launch preparedness and determined a launch schedule change was necessary.
The spacecraft itself, comprised of the spacecraft bus and Sun-shield, has experienced delays during its integration and testing.
The additional environmental testing time of the fully assembled observatory – the telescope and the spacecraft -will ensure that Webb will be fully tested before launching into space, NASA said.
All the rigorous tests of the telescope and the spacecraft to date show the mission is meeting its required performance levels, it said.
Existing programme budget accommodates the change in launch date, and the change will not affect planned science observations. PTI
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