House Committee Schedules Hearing on JWST

House Committee Schedules Hearing on JWST

The House Science, Space and Technology Committee will hold a hearing on NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) program next week.

The program, which has experienced significant cost growth and schedule delays, was saved from cancellation in the final version of NASA’s FY2012 appropriations bill.  The House Appropriations Committee wanted to terminate the program.   Its counterpart in the Senate, however, approved an increase in funding for FY2012 so the telescope can be launched in 2018 instead of years later.  The Senate Appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA is chaired by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), an ardent supporter of NASA’s space and earth science programs, especially those managed at Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, including JWST.

The projected lifecycle cost for the program is up to $8.8 billion.   The price has risen substantially over the years and an independent review just last year estimated the cost at $6.5 billion assuming launch in 2015 (a two-year slip).   To launch in 2015, however, substantial additional money would have had to have been spent on the program in FY2011 and FY2012, money that NASA did not have.   Thus, the launch date slipped even further, increasing the cost yet again.  The independent review, chaired by John Casani, blamed poor program management at NASA, not technical issues, as the reasons for the cost growth.  Northrop Grumman is the prime contractor.

JWST supporters have been waging a campaign to build support for the project which obviously has been successful so far.  Conferees on the appropriations bill adopted the Senate position, adding $156 million to the program’s budget for FY2012.   NASA says that an additional $1.067 billion will be needed for FY2013-2016 and other parts of NASA are worried that their budgets will be cut in order to pay for the JWST overruns.

The hearing is scheduled for December 6 at 10:00 am EST in 2318 Rayburn House Office Building.   Witnesses are:

  • Mr. Rick Howard, Program Manager, James Webb Space Telescope, NASA
  • Dr. Roger Blandford, Professor of Physics, Stanford University, and chair of the National Research Council”s recent Decadal Survey on Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Dr. Garth Illingworth, Professor & Astronomer, UCO/Lick Observatory, University of California, Santa Cruz
  • Mr. Jeffrey D. Grant, Sector Vice President & General Manager, Space Systems Division, Northrup Grumman Aerospace Systems

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