Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Current Status of the James Webb Space Telescope

Greets Science Warriors,

This post is a review of a document NASA entitled "James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) Program Status and Replan". It was compiled in order for the public and the Federal Government to assess the status of the JWST and its ability to move forward. Warning: The report contains many technical details. This post will try to focus on the overall idea of the report.

We are reviewing this report to counter the idea that the James Webb Space Telescope is behind schedule and over budget, that it is somehow easier to just scrap the project and leave it on the ground. It is true that the project has gone over budget. However, the telescope is on schedule and contrary the opinions of some, the hardest technical elements are completed. The real waste would be to leave it on the ground!
The full scale model at Goddard Space Flight Center. Click to embiggen. 

The report largely deals with the Telescope's replan. It reports that senior management had been replaced (see below), that a new schedule had been developed and that the JWST team were meeting deadlines within accepted costs according to that schedule. The report is a response to the assessment of the JWST by the group called the Independent Comprehensive Review Panel (ICRP). The ICRP "confirmed that there are no technical issues on JWST". In the document, NASA indicates that it has agreed with all the ICRP recommendations, which include:
  • Better transparency, cost control, and performance assessment
  • Replacement of senior management
  • Reorganized communication within top management and NASA HQ
  • Reassessment of budget
It is worth noting that the majority of the ICRP recommendations have been followed, with the last few items in progress at the time of the report.

The first six primary mirror segments being prepped for final cryogenic acceptance testing.
The report addresses the budget for JWST and includes comparison of budget projections based on each budget year from 2004 to 2012. 

The report indicates the status of all of the telescopes major components. The Telescope itself, Science Instruments, the Sunshield, and Spacecraft components are either completed or are approaching their completion dates. From the report: "75% (by mass) of the flight hardware is either ready to be fabricated, in fabrication, in test, or has been delivered". A few of the elements have, in fact, been completed ahead of schedule, according to the report. The primary mirrors, arguably one of the most important components aboard the JWST, have completed polishing by June 9, 2011 (additionally, the secondary mirrors have also completed polishing). 
Click to embiggen
The new budget affects the entire project. Changes were being made across the board. Part of the new plan to adjust to new budget realities included a new launch date. The former launch date was going to be in 2013. The new plan has the JWST launching in 2018. Some of the concerns NASA had with the replan included the following, which all stem from a new prolonged launch date: 
  • Due to the new launch date, there is concern over the possible loss of contractor personnel due to periods of inactivity
  • Involved people are worried that about storing the telescope components for such a long period of time and what inactivity and aging would do to the parts
  • Inability to plan around funding uncertainty that far out in the future, especially in light of the recent budget cuts to NASA (9% overall so far).

The replan summary from the actual report is as follows and are quoted directly from the report: 
  •  NASA has made significant changes in the management of JWST
  •  NASA has developed a replan with an October 2018 launch date
  •  Replan is on track to support the FY13 budget process
  •  Communications has greatly improved both with Centers and contractors, especially at senior management levels
  •  Assessment of alternatives completed – JWST remains is the best value
"JWST continues to make great progress, achieving milestones within cost and schedule"

The report also wanted to remind us that while the JWST is largely an American effort, there are a few other nations who have contributed significantly to this telescope. The European Space Agency has contributed $150 million USD to the effort. The Canadian Space Agency has contributed a very substantial $790 million USD. 

This has just been a brief summary of the report NASA has issued in response to its management reorganization, change in budget, and recommendations by the ICRP (see above) for the James Webb Space Telescope. For the full slide show, please follow this link. The telescope is almost ready. It would be a real blow to science, the working scientists here in the United States (and those who would come to the US), as well as the economy of the United States if this telescope were prevented from launching. 

As always, Space Warriors, do not forget the 4 steps to saving JWST: 

   a) Sign the Petition
   b) Like the Facebook Page
   d) Spread the Word

Stayed tuned for more information!

(see below for additional slides from the report)
Click to embiggen
Click to embiggen

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