NASA‘s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) finally launched in December 2021 after multiple delays over the past several years — but how much did the whole thing actually cost? The JWST is primarily an infrared telescope that promises to improve infrared resolution and sensitivity over the decades-old Hubble Space Telescope. The new observatory was initially supposed to launch in 2007, and the delays spiraled its budget upwards by a factor of twenty.
The James Webb Space Telescope is expected to help astrophysicists study some of the earliest galaxies and cosmic bodies that have been difficult to observe until now. It began orbiting its L2 path towards the end of January, and it will be followed by optics alignment and instrument calibration for several weeks. The first images from the new, multi-billion dollar observatory are expected to arrive by the summer of 2022.
The JWST was successfully launched on Dec 25, 2021, from ESA’s launch site at Kourou in French Guiana, at 7:20 a.m. EST (1220 GMT), onboard an Arianespace Ariane 5 rocket. By the time it was launched, the James Webb telescope cost a whopping $10 billion, which is a massive escalation from its originally-proposed $500 million budget. It was later assessed to cost between $1 and $3.5 billion when Northrop Grumman picked up the project in 2002, but as we know now, even that was a gross underestimate. While the $10 billion price sounds inordinately high — and it is — the JWST is the world’s largest and most powerful science telescope in space. It’s expected to help researchers unearth everything from mysteries of the Big Bang to alien planet formation. Its permanent home will be Lagrange point, a gravitationally stable location in space about a million miles away from Earth.
Fifteen-Year Delay And A Massive Price Tag
The nearly fifteen-year delay in the launch of the JWST has tested the patience of not only astronomers and researchers, but also millions of space enthusiasts around the world. The problems can largely be attributed to engineering errors, political indifference, and project management issues — all of which combined to delay the launch and increase costs exponentially. NASA has had to deal with not only the ineptitude of Northrup Grumman, but also threats from U.S. politicians to pull funding from the project because of the spiraling costs.
The pandemic also pushed back the launch date by several months, while a series of minor delays just before the launch pushed back the deployment even further. While there’s enough blame to go around for the series of delays, many believe that contractor Northrop Grumman is singularly responsible for the sorry state of affairs. The company not only committed one error after another, but it also kept demanding additional funds citing increased costs on its end. Thankfully, the James Webb Space Telescope is now finally in orbit, and as long as it functions as expected, the additional expenditure will be well worth it.
Source: The New York Times
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