REDONDO BEACH, CA — NASA has announced a new target launch date for the James Webb Space Telescope, which was postponed because of impacts from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, as well as technical challenges.
The launch from French Guiana is planned for Oct. 31, 2021, and was previously scheduled to launch in March 2021, NASA announced earlier this month.
"This decision is based on a recently completed schedule risk assessment of the remaining integration and test activities prior to launch," NASA announced.
“The perseverance and innovation of the entire Webb Telescope team has enabled us to work through challenging situations we could not have foreseen on our path to launch this unprecedented mission,” Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at the agency’s headquarters in Washington, said in a news release.
“Webb is the world’s most complex space observatory, and our top science priority, and we’ve worked hard to keep progress moving during the pandemic,” Zurbuchen said. "The team continues to be focused on reaching milestones and arriving at the technical solutions that will see us through to this new launch date next year."
Northrop Grumman in Redondo Beach is the mission's main industry partner and continues observatory testing on the project, "despite the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic," the agency said. "Prior to the pandemic’s associated delays, the team made significant progress in achieving important milestones to prepare for launch in 2021."
Progress for the mission was expected for April, following schedule changes in fall, then the pandemic happened. In July, the assessment was completed.
"The factors contributing to the decision to move the launch date include the impacts of augmented safety precautions, reduced on-site personnel, disruption to shift work, and other technical challenges," NASA announced. "Webb will use existing program funding to stay within its $8.8 billion development cost cap."
“Based on current projections, the program expects to complete the remaining work within the new schedule without requiring additional funds,” said Gregory Robinson, NASA Webb program director at the agency’s headquarters. “Although efficiency has been affected and there are challenges ahead, we have retired significant risk through the achievements and good schedule performance over the past year. After resuming full operations to prepare for upcoming final observatory system-level environmental testing this summer, major progress continues towards preparing this highly complex observatory for launch.”
Up next, the team will complete a set of difficult environmental tests before shipping to the launch site in Kourou, French Guiana, which is on the northeastern coast of South America.
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