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Congress Dumps James Webb Space Telescope 409

Posted by samzenpus
from the no-telescope-for-you dept.
Teancum writes "On the list of items on the upcoming federal budget for 2012, the U.S. House of Representatives has announced they are going to cancel the continued development of the James Webb Space Telescope. While this debate is certainly still very much a preliminary draft, the road ahead for this project is now very much uncertain. In this time of budget cuts, it seems unlikely that this project is going to survive at this time. It certainly will be an uphill battle for fans of this telescope if they want to keep it alive."
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Congress Dumps James Webb Space Telescope

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  • Budget problems (Score:5, Informative)

    by Trillan (597339) on Wednesday July 06, 2011 @08:57PM (#36677838) Homepage Journal

    From Wikipedia:
    "In June 2011, it was reported that the Webb telescope will cost at least four times more than originally proposed, and launch at least seven years late. Initial budget estimates were that the observatory would cost $1.6 billion and launch in 2011. NASA has now scheduled the telescope for a 2018 launch, though outside analysts suggest the flight could slip past 2020. The latest estimated price tag for the telescope is now $6.8 billion."

    Although a loss for science, this would seem to be more accurately blamed on poor management and budgeting. Perhaps a smaller, better managed project will rise from the ashes.

  • Mixed Feelings (Score:5, Informative)

    by notKevinJohn (2218940) on Wednesday July 06, 2011 @09:06PM (#36677944)
    As someone who works on several NASA science mission directorate missions, I have to say I have mixed feelings about this. James Webb was going to be an amazing successor to Hubble, and would have been very popular with the general public as well as with scientists. However, it is way way over budget, and eating the budgets of other worthy science missions, and maybe there is something to be said for cutting missions who can't keep on budget. I was really looking forward to James Webb though, even if it was the 800lb gorilla of the science mission directorate.
  • by jrivar59 (146428) on Wednesday July 06, 2011 @09:15PM (#36678008)

    This This Astronomy Cast [astronomycast.com] podcast episode does a great job of explaining why infrared astronomy is important, and the role that the JWST will (would have?) played in discovery.

  • by Daniel Dvorkin (106857) on Wednesday July 06, 2011 @09:34PM (#36678184) Homepage Journal

    Yep. Other winners in this budget include the International Trade Administration, FBI, DEA, and the Bureau of Prisons. Other losers include NSF, NIST, NOAA, the Economic Development Administration, and programs to aid state and local law enforcement. You can draw your own conclusions about what set of priorities that reflects ...

  • Re:Budget problems (Score:5, Informative)

    by Idarubicin (579475) <allsquiet@ho[ ]il.com ['tma' in gap]> on Wednesday July 06, 2011 @09:43PM (#36678266) Journal

    Although a loss for science, this would seem to be more accurately blamed on poor management and budgeting. Perhaps a smaller, better managed project will rise from the ashes.

    This isn't exactly a surprise. The only way NASA can get funding is to promise the moon (usually figuratively, though occasionally literally) on an implausible shoestring budget, and then hope that the real costs later on don't cause management to scupper an already-in-progress high-profile project. This is a pretty common strategy in government funded technology and research projects, and it's something that's as old as NASA.

    The Mercury program came in at roughly double its original estimated price.

    The Air Force anticipated in 1958 that a lunar program would cost $1.5 billion and be complete by the end of 1965. In 1961, NASA's experts said they could do the job by 1967, at a cost of $7 billion. By the time Neil Armstrong took his one small step, it was 1969, and the program had rung up a price tag of about $25 billion (in 1960s dollars).

    Looking at the last space telescope project, the Hubble was originally budgeted at $400 million. It cost $2.5 billion by launch time, and total program costs to date run to between $4.5 and $6 billion.

    This problem isn't unique to NASA. Technology development programs in the military offer some particularly good examples. Lockheed completed their contract for the F-22 Raptor more than two years and ten billion dollars behind schedule--but they still received more than $800 million in performance awards for their work.

  • Re:Budget problems (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 06, 2011 @10:00PM (#36678384)

    Lets compare that to the F-22 "Raptor".... supposed to cost about $80 million per plane, the "fly away cost" per plane on last delivery was about $165 million. Years late for initial delivery, the total program cost was over $65 billion......

    Oh, and as of this writing, ALL OF THEM ARE GROUNDED due to problems with their oxygen generators..... not a single plane is flying right now.

    That is a load of crap, foisted on the American taxpayer by the defense-industrial complex.

  • Re:Budget problems (Score:4, Informative)

    by 0123456 (636235) on Wednesday July 06, 2011 @10:16PM (#36678506)

    Without Shuttle, Hubble as it was launched would be known as an expensive boondoggle and no longer be operational.

    Without the shuttle we could have launched a new Hubble every few years, because that would have cost less than the maintenance missions.

  • by hawguy (1600213) on Wednesday July 06, 2011 @10:38PM (#36678694)

    Except that:

    Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) – The bill provides $2.7 billion for the PTO – the full requested level. This funding is equal to the estimated amount of fees to be collected by the PTO during fiscal year 2012, and is an increase of $588 million or 28% above last year’s level. The bill also includes language that allows PTO to keep and use any fees in excess of the estimated collected amount, subject to standard Congressional approval, and includes language requiring PTO to report on efforts to reduce the patent application backlog

    (Bolding is mine).

    The USPTO funds itself from fees it collects.

  • Re:Budget problems (Score:4, Informative)

    by robot256 (1635039) on Wednesday July 06, 2011 @11:08PM (#36678958)
    Exactly right. I was involved in one of the instruments on JWST, and we had no end of trouble because half the engineering work was done before they had even done the research to see if it would work at all. After they did figure out how to make it work, it turned out the engineering was done to essentially nonsense specs. That took a lot of jury-rigging and overtime to deliver, just one of many examples I'm sure.
  • by FleaPlus (6935) on Wednesday July 06, 2011 @11:54PM (#36679260) Journal

    You don't even need to look outside NASA to see ridiculous spending to compare to. The same House appropriations bill with the $431M JWST cut includes $2B for the Space Launch System (SLS) and $1B for the Orion/MPCV capsule. The SLS is basically Congress's mandate to NASA to build a heavy-lift rocket out of Shuttle-legacy components capable of competing with SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket. The $2B is only for the first year of SLS funding, for a rocket which isn't expected to have its first launch until 2017 or later. Mind that this is for a rocket that NASA didn't even want in the first place.

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