Northrop Grumman’s Scott Willoughby points out features of an engineering test model of the bus of the James Webb Space Telescope during a January 11 media tour of the company’s clean room facilities where elements of the observatory are being built. (credit: J. Foust)

A space telescope stays the course

by Jeff Foust
Monday, January 28, 2013

Big programs attract attention, and controversy, particularly when they run behind schedule and/or over budget. That’s been true for a number of NASA programs over the years, from the International Space Station to elements of the now-canceled Constellation program. That was also the case for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), which attracted scrutiny in 2010 and 2011 when independent assessments found the telescope’s cost billions of dollars above previous estimates and years behind schedule, putting the program in jeopardy (see “Space science caught in a Webb”, The Space Review, September 12, 2011).

That led to a “replan” for the JWST program, setting a new budget of $8 billion through launch in late 2018. More than a year after that replan, the message from NASA and key contractors is that the giant space telescope is back on track, sticking to its budget and schedule, even as budgetary uncertainties, some beyond the control of the program, remain.

“The budget that we’re working to is the replan budget that was established back in 2011. We are working to that budget and schedule,” said Eric Smith, deputy program manager for JWST at NASA Headquarters, in a JWST “town hall” meeting at the 221st meeting of the American Astronomical Society earlier this month in Long Beach, California. “That was news 18 to 24 months ago, but today those things are the same.”

Later in his presentation, Smith noted JWST completed 34 of 37 planned milestones in fiscal year 2012, 16 of which were finished ahead of schedule. The other three milestones, including the delivery of two of JWST’s instruments, have been delayed to FY2013, but won’t affect the overall program. “We’ve been able to cover that with existing budget reserves and schedule reserves. There is no change to the launch date and no change to the budget,” he said.

That performance to cost and schedule was emphasized two days later at a tour of Northrop Grumman’s facilities in Redondo Beach, California, where elements of the space telescope are being built. Scott Willoughby, Northrop Grumman vice president and JWST program manager, noted the company had just achieved its fifth milestone of the fiscal year, testing of the aft optics system of the telescope.

“This is a fun state of the program,” Willoughby said. “We’re really moving into production.”

Read more: The Space Review: A space telescope stays the course.

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