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NASA confirms the James Webb telescope will once again miss its date

Published Jun 11th, 2020 5:01PM EDT
james webb space telescope delay
Image: NASA

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  • NASA has officially confirmed the James Webb Space Telescope will miss its expected March 2021 launch date.
  • The telescope, originally expected to launch in 2007 and cost $500 million, has been delayed many times and now costs around $10 billion thanks to the failings of primary contractor Northrop Grumman.
  • This latest delay has been blamed on the coronavirus pandemic.

The saga of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope is almost too embarrassing to even comprehend. I’ve chronicled the many failings of Northrop Grumman, the contractor doing the majority of the work on the telescope, from using the wrong kinds of fasteners to applying the incorrect solvents during cleaning, all of which have caused huge delays and massive cost overruns.

Now, in an announcement that will surprise absolutely nobody, NASA has confirmed that the James Webb Space Telescope will once again miss its latest expected launch date in 2021. The telescope’s original expected launch date was in 2007. What a complete disaster.

To give you an idea of just how absurd this all really is, consider that with its original 2007 launch window, the project was supposed to cost roughly $500 million. That’s a hefty chunk of change, but it’s just a small fraction of what the final bill has now grown to. At its latest update, the project has been priced at nearly $10 billion (that’s with a “b”), and another delay means that cost will continue to skyrocket.

In late June of 2018, NASA officially announced the delay to 2021, citing “technical issues.” Evaluations of Northrop Grumman’s performance have remained favorable despite the company’s continuous failings and a bad habit of sucking up billions of taxpayer dollars without bothering to meet important deadlines.

Things are so bad that Congress has had to step in and interrogate the company’s CEO over its many failings. When asked if the company was going to be cutting the American people a break when the final bill comes, in light of its repeated shortcomings, the CEO predictably pledged that no, of course, the company would not lower its cost demands.

As far as this latest delay goes, it’s more of the same. “We will not launch in March,” NASA’s Thomas Zurbuchen said. “That is not in the cards right now. It’s not because they did anything wrong.”


Anyway, this time around Northrop Grumman and NASA are blaming the delay on the coronavirus pandemic, which is the first actual legitimate excuse for a delay since work on the telescope began. You can’t risk the health of employees for a telescope that is already so late to its own party that people have almost completely forgotten it even exists. So, for now, we’ll just have to wait and see when the next expected launch date will be, and then go ahead and assume that launch window will be missed as well.

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