It’s a good thing the Hubble Space Telescope has managed to keep on bringing us deep space imagery well beyond its expected lifespan, because its successor is taking its sweet time in getting ready to relieve it of duty. The James Webb Space Telescope has just been delayed again, now pushing its launch back to 2020—and its budget over approved limits.
Thankfully, that won’t mean much more than NASA telling Congress how much this latest delay is expected to cost, and Congress telling NASA that it’s fine, because we’ve already spent billions and created an essentially functional telescope that just needs a bit more testing before it can be put to work. With the telescope’s launch so close even despite the delay, it’s likely just another—and maybe the last—in a long string of delays and budget increases for the project that have been going on since 1996.
Currently, the telescope’s flight systems are complete, and its instruments are undergoing additional testing, while it waits to be fully pieced together with the spacecraft that will position it in orbit. It’s not all smooth sailing for the vaguely Star Destroyer-looking space observatory, though. Some of the delay has been caused by outright accidents like incidents causing tears in the kite-shaped sun shield that will protect the telescope from the Sun, and NASA is only 70% sure the telescope will meet its new, delayed launch window—which is no doubt frustrating for scientists who already have to adjust their plans for requesting access to it once it’s operational.
Once it’s finally launched, though, it’s likely to be worth the wait, providing scientists an unprecedented look into the reaches of the Universe—including, but not limited to, getting a better idea of the atmospheric composition of alien worlds and whether or not they can support life. Here, let Optimus Prime (really) tell you all about how awesome it’s going to be, and get a little insight on what’s so difficult about assembling the craft:
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