Nasa has announced that the often delayed James Webb space telescope (JWST) is to be delayed once more. Instead of a launch on 30 March 2021, the mission has now slipped to 31 October 2021.
The seven-month delay is the result of impacts from the coronavirus pandemic, as well as technical challenges. The spacecraft is currently being tested at Northrop Grumman, Nasa’s main industrial partner on the mission, in Redondo Beach, California.
A recently completed risk assessment exercise recommended the delay. Once ready, JWST will be transported to Europe’s spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, where it will be launched by the European Space Agency on an Ariane 5 ECA rocket.
Touted as the successor to the Hubble space telescope, JWST has had a troubled development characterised by major cost overruns and delays. Development work started in the late 1990s, with a launch date set for 2007. By the time JWST launches next year, the total cost of development is estimated to reach about $8.8bn (£6.8bn).
The space telescope is a fearsomely complex piece of machinery that has to be folded into the rocket’s nose-cone for launch, and then unfurl itself in space. It will study the infrared region of the spectrum.