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Launch Delay for the James Webb Space Telescope

By Dr. Lisa Will, Fleet Science Center's Resident Astronomer

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has long been described as the “successor” to the Hubble Space Telescope. Because Hubble won’t last forever, JWST has been designed to push beyond the boundaries of what we’ve learned from Hubble and is planned for launch before Hubble loses functionality .


That is why news of a delay in the launch date for JWST is disappointing. NASA announced this week that the 2019 launch date is being moved back to May 2020. While the spacecraft and its instrumentation (cameras and mirrors, for example) are complete, they were all built separately and have finally been brought together to integrate the spacecraft as a whole. However, there have been problems during routine testing that indicate the need to do more testing before declaring the mission ready for launch. Nobody wants to launch a spacecraft with leaky thrusters and a torn sunshield!


While this latest development is indeed disappointing, it’s not terribly surprising. This is a mission like none before it: the largest mirror ever in space, one that unfurls to its full size of 21 feet! NASA can’t buy these instruments in a store. Every bit is dreamed, designed, engineered and constructed to form amazing spacecraft that help us better understand the universe. While such delays are understandable, we wish everyone on JWST the best of luck making the new May 2020 launch date.


To keep up with the latest news about the James Webb Space Telescope, visit its website or follow it on Twitter.

Wishing you clear skies!

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