JWST Independent Review Faults Management, not Technical Performance; Launch Date Slips to 2015

JWST Independent Review Faults Management, not Technical Performance; Launch Date Slips to 2015

An independent review of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) demanded by Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) has concluded that the program’s cost has grown to $6.5 billion and the earliest it can launch is September 2015. This compares to the current projected cost of $5.1 billion and launch date of 2014. The report was released by NASA today (November 10, 2010). The head of the review team, John Casani, summarized the findings in a letter to NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, faulting the project’s “budgeting and program management, not technical performance.”

In response, Mr. Bolden issued a statement that he is reorganizing the management of the program both at NASA headquarters and at Goddard Space Flight Center:

“No one is more concerned about the situation we find ourselves in than I am, and that is why I am reorganizing the JWST Project at Headquarters and the Goddard Space Flight Center, and assigning a new senior manager at Headquarters to lead this important effort. The new JWST program director will have a staff of technical and cost personnel provided by the Science Mission Directorate and report to the NASA associate administrator. This will ensure more direct reporting to me and increase the project’s visibility within the agency’s management structure. Additionally, the Goddard Space Flight Center’s project office has been reorganized to report directly to the center director. That office is undergoing personnel changes to specifically address the issues identified in the report.”

The overruns and schedule slips are problematic not only in and of themselves, but because NASA’s Science Mission Directorate has made clear that there will be no new major astrophysics projects until this telescope is launched. The National Research Council recently issued its Decadal Survey for astronomy and astrophysics, recommending projects for the next decade based on the assumption that JWST would be launched in 2014 and that about $2 billion would be available for new projects in the next decade. The additional funds now needed to finish JWST could very well upset those plans.

Senator Mikulski represents Goddard Space Flight Center and chairs the Senate appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA. She has been a strong supporter of JWST, but was alarmed by reports of new cost growth this year, which led to her insistence that NASA create the independent review team.

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