Testing the hardware on the observatory's telescope and spacecraft modules demonstrate that these systems individually meet their requirements. In addition, an independent review board chaired by retired aerospace executive Tom Young will review the project's schedule, helping to establish a firmer timeline for launch.
All pieces of the 6123 kilogram observatory are now together in the same Grumman facility for the first time and it is the integration of all of the components plus the testing that goes with it, that is holding up the launch. NASA says it will take both recommendations and findings from both boards, ultimately giving its own assessment to Congress later on this summer. Once a new launch readiness date is determined, NASA said it will provide a cost estimate that may exceed the projected $8 billion development cost to complete the final phase of testing and prepare for launch. Additional steps to address project challenges include increasing NASA engineering oversight, personnel changes, and new management reporting structures.
The 6.5-meter telescope on the Webb is only part of the large machinery involved, weighing some 13,500 pounds. "The spacecraft element consists of the tennis-court-sized sunshield, designed by Northrop Grumman, and the spacecraft bus, which houses the flight avionics, power system, and solar panels". For example, the JWST needs to fold up to fit inside the payload bay of an Ariane 5 rocket, and then deploy itself once it's in space. "Webb is a really complex machine and rigorous testing is required to have a high confidence of success", Zurbuchen said.
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Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, said, "Considering the investment NASA and our global partners have made, we want to proceed systematically through these last tests, with the additional time necessary, to be ready for a May 2020 launch". But the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) appears likely to have to wait at least two more.
Among the tests to which the telescope is subjected, Webb must be exposed to the vibrations, noise, and extreme temperatures similar to what it will experience during its launch and its mission. "These tests will take a few months to complete", NASA now reports.
Right now, the telescope is still in pieces, as components are tested to make sure they can withstand the hazards of space.
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Acting Nasa administrator Robert Lightfoot said the exhaustive integration and testing process, which can feel excruciatingly slow at times, is needed to ensure that the JWST is functional when it arrives in orbit.
The James Webb Space Telescope is intended as the successor to Hubble, which is now more than 25 years old.
The main mirror of NASA's James Webb Space Telescope being tested at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, in 2017. The telescope has passed a milestone 100-day test in a vacuum chamber to simulate conditions in space, and its delicate sunshield has been completely packed into its launch configuration and successfully unfurled (no easy task, considering it is created to do so in zero gravity, which can't be achieved on the ground). NASA has already spent $7.3 billion on the project, so to kill the space telescope now, after 20 years, would be to waste all that money not to mention conceding our space leadership to the ESA and China.
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