Launch of the James Webb Space Telescope delayed again due to covid-19

Launch of the James Webb Space Telescope delayed again due to covid-19
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Once again, the James Webb Space Telescope has been delayed
NASA/Desiree Stover

The launch of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has been delayed once again. Its planned launch date has slipped from March 2021 to 31 October 2021, partially due to the coronavirus pandemic.

This is just the latest in a series of delays and budget overruns since the beginning of the project in 1996. Since then, the scope of the project has broadened and the budget expanded from $0.5 billion to $9.6 billion. The most recent delay was announced in 2018, along with another increase in the budget, and moved the launch date from May 2020 to March 2021.

This new delay will not come with a budget increase, said NASA Science Mission Directorate associate administrator Thomas Zurbuchen in a 16 July press conference. Instead, it will be paid for by additional funds that were allocated to the mission in the last delay.

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Of the seven-month delay, the coronavirus pandemic is to blame for at least three months of scheduling slip, said JWST program director Gregory Robinson during the press conference. “The team is practicing covid-19 workplace protocols like social distancing, which will impact how quickly tasks can be finished in the clean room,” he said. It also means that fewer people can work on the spacecraft simultaneously.

JWST is NASA’s planned successor for the Hubble Space Telescope, which will probably stop working sometime in the 2030s, according to NASA associate administrator Stephen Jurczyk, who also spoke at the press conference. It is even larger and more powerful than Hubble, so it will be used primarily to hunt for exoplanets that Hubble cannot see, and even examine some of the atmospheres of those worlds to look for signs of life.

Its size will also allow it to look deeper into the early universe than Hubble can to observe the formation of the very first stars and galaxies and study how they evolved over time.

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