NASA is delaying the launch of its next-generation space telescope—its highest science priority—until at least 2020.
Top officials said Tuesday that more time is needed to assemble and test the James Webb Space Telescope, which is considered a successor to the long-orbiting Hubble Space Telescope.
It’s the latest in a series of delays for the telescope, dating back a decade. More recently, Webb was supposed to fly this year, but last fall NASA bumped the launch until 2019.
“Simply put, we have one shot to get this right before going into space,” explained Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate administrator of science.
For such a highly complex machine designed to “look at the universe in a way that we’ve never seen it,” there can be no shortcuts, he stressed. The telescope will study planets orbiting other stars, while probing the earliest times of the cosmos.
Some mistakes were made while preparing the telescope, which slowed work. At the same time, NASA underestimated the scale of the job, Zurbuchen said.
Unlike Hubble, which was serviced regularly by space shuttle astronauts, Webb will orbit the sun at a point about 1 million miles (1.6 million kilometers) from Earth—unreachable in case of a breakdown. Hubble lifted off in 1990 with a flawed mirror that blurred its vision; spacewalking astronauts had to fix it in 1993.
H/t reader kevin a.
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