NASA announced Wednesday that the launch date for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has been changed to December 18th. This is humanity’s next major space-bound eye in the cosmos. This is the latest delay in dozens of delays to a telescope originally scheduled to launch into space in 2007.
Named after NASA’s second administrator and costing $8.8 million, the observatory is a tennis court-sized replacement to NASA’s famous Hubble telescope. The spacecraft’s 18 hexagonal, gold-plated mirrors will enable it to view distant planets as well as the far reaches beyond Hubble’s reach with unprecedented detail.
The launch of the telescope has been a long-awaited event for astronomers. However, it has been delayed many times, faced with development problems and costly overruns. NASA and Northrop Grumman (the telescope’s prime contractor) initially set a $1B budget for James Webb, and a launch date of sometime in 2007. The launch date was moved to 2018 in 2011, but this was further delayed by development accidents. Early last year, NASA’s inspector general foresaw delays due to a handful of technical challenges. And the pandemic added more delays last year, pushing the launch date to October 31st.
This latest delay was not caused by the telescope. James Webb’s Ariane 5 rocket was grounded for almost a year because of problems with the payload fairings. These issues were discovered in two separate commercial missions in 2020. In July, the rocket launched a number of satellites. The European Space Agency, NASA’s satellite partner, approved James Webb’s launch plan in July. It was part of a key review that revealed “positive results” from technical evaluations.
NASA said the new date was set in consultation with Arianespace, the French company whose Ariane 5 rocket will send James Webb to space from a launch site in Kourou, French Guiana managed by the European Space Agency (ESA). The observatory, a joint project between NASA, ESA, and the Canadian space agency, wrapped up final tests late last month, and now it’s undergoing shipment operations. Before the spacecraft is sent to Kourou, engineers will wrap it in a very special (and expensive) shipping container.
It finally has an updated launch date to space. However, details of the exact time the spacecraft will set sail to South America are still being closely guarded as a security precaution.