The replacement for the space-gazing Hubble telescope will be delayed by a year to 2015 and will cost 1.5 billion dollars more than current estimates, independent experts said Thursday.
The ambitious project to replace the aging Hubble Space Telescope with the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) could face even further delays and cost increases if it does not receive an additional 250 million dollars in 2011 and 2012, according to a seven-member review panel.
"The problem causing cost growth and schedule delays on the JWST Project are associated with budgeting and program management, not technical performance," it said in a report.
"However, the budget baseline accepted at the confirmation review did not reflect the most probable cost with adequate reserves in each year of project execution... This resulted in a project that was simply not executable within the budgeted resources."
During their last estimate in 2008, experts said the project would cost five billion dollars, still 1.5 billion more than the original plan.
This time, the experts estimated that the total cost for the project -- already years behind schedule and billions of dollars over budget -- would reach 6.5 billion dollars.
They warned of more costs should the launch, originally scheduled for 2013, be delayed once more.
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said he was "disappointed we have not maintained the level of cost control we strive to achieve -- something the American taxpayer deserves in all of our projects."
The JWST is designed to explore all fields of astronomy across the history of the universe, from the first lights that followed the Big Bang to the formation of galaxies and solar systems that astrophysicists say can foster life.
It will be the biggest telescope ever deployed in space, with its main mirror consisting of 18 hexagonal segments measuring 21 feet (6.5 meters) in total diameter -- nearly three times that of Hubble.
Using 10 new technological tools, the telescope will also have four highly precise scientific instruments, including an infrared camera and a spectrometer kept at a very low temperature. It is expected to be in function for 10 years.
by Jim Mannion
(c) 2010 AFP