The U.S. Government Accountability Office has recently reported that the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope, which is scheduled for June, will be delayed. The launch had already been delayed from October 2018.
GAO stated that the delays are occurring because it is taking longer to integrate the components of the telescope than originally planned. The agency also added that a further delay in launch means that the project could exceed the $8 billion cap, which the Congress had set for it in 2011.
"Given several ongoing technical issues, and the work remaining to test the spacecraft element and complete integration of the telescope and spacecraft, combined with continuing slower-than-planned work at Northrop Grumman, we believe that the rescheduled launch window is likely unachievable," GAO stated.
The report by GAO catalogs various issues that Northrop Grumman had faced during the assembly process, in particular, the workforce issues and technical challenges required to meet them. For instance, one of the worrisome problems that came up during one of the tests was to launch the essential sunshield of the telescope, which underwent a serious snag. The sunshield is among JWST's six membrane tensioning systems.
Last year, it was also noticed that eight of 16 valves in the thrusters of the spacecraft were leaking more than what was the acceptable level. Northrop Grumman determined the leak was due to erroneous handling by technicians. However, it was not a conclusive find. The modules of the thruster then had to be investigated, refurbished, and reattached individually, a process that delayed schedule by months.
The previous delays have left JWST with just 1.5 schedule reserve months, but further delays are likely. The GAO report added that the managing board for the telescope will soon meet and determine whether it can still meet the June 2019 launch date.
James Webb Space Telescope
JWST, named after James Webb, who was the former NASA administrator, will be a huge infrared telescope with a primary mirror measuring 6.5 meters. It will be the premier observatory of the next decade and will serve thousands of astronomers all over the world.
The telescope will observe each stage in the universe's history, including the first luminous glows following the Big Bang, the creation of star systems that have the ability to host life on planets such as Earth, as well the solar system's evolution.
JWST is an international collaboration between NASA, the Canadian Space Agency, and the European Space Agency.