Science

NASA delays next-generation space telescope until 2020

The James Webb Space Telescope — first proposed to launch for 2007 — is once again facing a delay.

Canadian instruments on $8-billion telescope

NASA engineer Ernie Wright looks on as the first six flight-ready James Webb Space Telescope's primary mirror segments are prepped to begin final cryogenic testing at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in April 2011. (NASA/MSFC/David Higginbotham)

NASA has once again delayed the launch of its next-generation space telescope, this time, until 2020.

Officials say they need more time to assemble and test the James Webb Space Telescope, which is considered a successor to the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope.

The observatory was supposed to fly this year. But last fall, NASA bumped the launch to 2019. NASA announced the latest delay on Tuesday.

Since its proposal in the late 1990s, the telescope has faced numerous delays.

"We have one shot to get this right before going into space," said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA's associate administrator of science.

He said some mistakes were made while preparing the telescope, and NASA underestimated the scale of the job.

Engineers pose with NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, or Webb, after it emerged from Chamber A at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston on Dec. 1, 2017. (NASA/Chris Gunn)

Hubble had its own share of issues. Following its launch in 1990, it was recognized almost immediately that there was a problem with its optics. Instead of crisp images, the telescope was sending back blurry photos, a result of a flaw that was just 1/50th the thickness of a sheet of paper.

A repair crew was sent up in 1993, which corrected Hubble's "eyesight."

Canadian tech

The James Webb is a collaboration between NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).

The CSA is providing the telescope's Fine Guidance Sensor, as well as one four science instruments on board, the Near-InfraRed Imager and Slitless Spectograph (NIRISS) which will aid in the search for exoplanets.

The agencies will work together to firm up a new launch date, now tentatively targeted for May 2020. Once a new date is set, NASA says it will provide a new cost estimate.

Officials say the cost may exceed the $8 billion program cap set by Congress. NASA has already poured $7 billion into the telescope.

with files from CBC News

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