Under the threat of cancellation because of cost overruns, this is about the worst news the James Webb Space Telescope could get. A report in Aviation Week & Space Technology says the life cycle costs for developing, launching and managing a five-year mission for the giant space telescope has risen to $8.7 billion, up from the previous estimate of $6.5 billion.
This past July, the U.S House of Representatives’ appropriations committee on Commerce, Justice, and Science proposed a budget for fiscal year 2012 that would cancel JWST’s funding. No final decision has been made on the fate of JWST, but this latest increase – just one of many life cycle increases of the telescope – does not bode well for NASA’s successor to the Hubble Space Telescope.
Aviation Week said managers at NASA have been re-planning the James Webb Space Telescope program after an independent cost analysis found it over budget and behind schedule. The independent analysis was headed by John Casani, a special assistant to the director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory with long experience developing scientific spacecraft, and that report found the $5.1 billion estimate to completion was at least $1.4 billion short.
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Now, tack on an additional $2.2 billion.
No details were provided of what the $2.2 billion includes, but the launch of JWST would be no earlier than 2018.
Details of how the agency will pay the cost will be covered in the fiscal 2013 NASA budget request now in preparation, Aviation Week quoted a NASA spokesman.
Of course, NASA’s entire budget is threatened to be cut by at least 10%, as President Obama has asked federal agencies to cut their budgets by that amount to enable a chance at balancing the federal budget.
But today, Nature News reports that NASA is looking at funding the flagship observatory in a different manner. JWST is currently funded entirely through NASA’s science division; now NASA is requesting that more than $1 billion in extra costs be shared 50:50 with the rest of the agency. Nature News said the request reflects administrator Charles Bolden’s view, expressed earlier this month, that the telescope is a priority not only for the science program but for the entire agency.
If ‘creative’ funding for JWST is not worked out, it would mean other programs would suffer greatly or be cut.
NASA made personnel changes at Goddard Spaceflight Center, the home of JWST, after Casani’s group concluded the majority of costs overruns were managerial rather than technical.
Sources: Aviation Week & Space Technology, Nature News