While initially it was estimated at one billion euros, it has already exceeded seven billion, more than half of NASA’s total astrophysics budget and, as delays occur, the cost increases. “The James Webb Space Telescope is the most ambitious and complex astronomical project ever built, and bringing it to life is a long, meticulous process.
Floating in the vast silence of space, each at a specific distance from Earth, the four great observatories share the different frequencies of the electromagnetic spectrum: Hubble observes mainly visible and ultraviolet light; Chandra monitors X-rays; Spitzer detects infrared light and the Compton Observatory captured energetic gamma rays.
The three space agencies that have been working since 1996 on its construction —NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency— have appointed an independent evaluation board to review the status of the project and last year announced a new launch delay until March 30, 2021.
While Hubble orbits some 600 kilometres above Earth’s surface —which is why it has been repaired several times with manned missions— James Webb will be located at the so-called Lagrange point 2 —about 1. 5 million kilometres from the Earth, orbiting the Sun.
Chandra, which this year celebrates twenty years in space, and Hubble, which has surpassed 29 years, are now suffering their own problems with their gyroscopic systems and have spent periods of time disconnected (without the possibility of missions to repair them).
The history of the James Webb space telescope has been plagued by delays and cost overruns.
Once in orbit, the 18 mirrors will act as a single mirror 6. 5 metres in diameter (compared to 2. 4 metres for the Hubble mirror), which makes it the largest space telescope ever built.
The WFIRST (Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope) is a telescope designed by NASA to answer essential questions in the areas of dark energy, the search for exoplanets and infrared astrophysics (which gives us a much more complete idea of nearby galaxies and has discovered more distant objects such as quasars).