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NASA pushes James Webb Space Telescope launch to 2019

$8 billion telescope will detect exoplanets, see first stars

In this photo from April 2015, NASA technicians lifted the James Webb Space Telescope using a crane and moved it inside a clean room at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
In this photo from April 2015, NASA technicians lifted the James Webb Space Telescope using a crane and moved it inside a clean room at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. (NASA)

NASA announced Thursday, after reviewing the schedule of remaining testing and installations, that its next generation space observatory the James Webb Space Telescope will not launch until 2019.

The launch was originally planned for October 2018, but NASA now plans to launch the powerful telescope between March and June 2019.

The $8 billion telescope will be more powerful than NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and will live more than 1 million miles from Earth to better observe deep space. The 21-foot diameter infrared telescope will observe rare astronomical events including the birth of stars and galaxies and find planets outside our solar system, known as exoplanets.

The decision to postpone the launch date came after NASA conducted a routine scheduled assessment.

“The change in launch timing is not indicative of hardware or technical performance concerns,” NASA’s Science Mission Directorate associate administrator Thomas Zurbuchen said. “Rather, the integration of the various spacecraft elements is taking longer than expected.”

The telescope is a partnership project with the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency led by NASA.

Last year, all 18 hexagon-shaped primary mirrors were installed. Currently the telescope and science instruments are undergoing testing at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, while the spacecraft itself is undergoing testing and installation at Northrop Grumman in California.

Some delays have been reported in Calirfornai for the spacecraft and sunshield, due to the complexity of the spacecraft, James Webb program director Eric Smith said.

“The combination of some integration activities taking longer than initially planned, such as the installation of more than 100 sunshield membrane release devices, factoring in lessons learned from earlier testing, like longer time spans for vibration testing, has meant the integration and testing process is just taking longer,” Smith said. “Considering the investment NASA has made, and the good performance to date, we want to proceed very systematically through these tests to be ready for a spring 2019 launch.”

James Webb will launch on an Ariane 5 rocket, contracted through the European Space Agency.

The new telescope's namesake is NASA's second administrator, James E. Webb. Webb was administrator at the space agency from the Mercury program through the beginning of the Apollo program in the 1960s.


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