NASA’s Webb Space Telescope to Inspect Atmospheres of Gas Giant Exoplanets

This is an artist’s impression of the Jupiter-size extrasolar planet, HD 189733b, being eclipsed by its parent star. Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope have measured carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide in the planet’s atmosphere. The planet is a “hot Jupiter,” which is so close to its star that it completes an orbit in only 2.2 days. The planet is too hot for life as we know it. But under the right conditions, on a more Earth-like world, carbon dioxide can indicate the presence of extraterrestrial life. This observation demonstrates that chemical biotracers can be detected by space telescope observations.[Credits: ESA, NASA, M. Kornmesser (ESA/Hubble), and STScI]
GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — In April 2018, NASA launched the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS). Its main goal is to locate Earth-sized planets and larger “super-Earths” orbiting nearby stars for further study.  One of the most powerful tools that will examine the atmospheres of some planets that TESS discovers will be NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope. Since observing small exoplanets with thin atmospheres like Earth will be challenging for Webb, astronomers will target easier, gas giant exoplanets first.

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Webb Space Telescope Problems: Excessive Voltage, Wrong Solvent & Loose Nuts

Artist’s impression of James Webb Space Telescope. (Credit: NASA)

NASA established the Independent Review Board (IRB) in April to evaluate the space agency’s $8 billion James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). The report, released last month, revealed a number of eye opening details about problems that NASA and the prime contractor, Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems (NGAS), have been experiencing in building the telescope and managing the program. Below are some key excerpts.

Independent Review Board Report
NASA James Webb Space Telescope

Full Report

Selected Excerpts

There have been several JWST Project problems due to human-induced errors that had substantial cost and schedule impact. In one case, an improper solvent was used to clean propulsion system valves that had been stored. The error was a failure to check with the valve vendor to ensure the solvent to be used was recommended and would not damage the valves. The valves had to be removed from the spacecraft, repaired or replaced, and reinstalled.

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James Webb Space Telescope Launch Slips into 2021, Cost Overruns

Artist’s impression of James Webb Space Telescope. (Credit; NASA)

Costs Rise from $8.8 Billion to $9.66 Billion

WASHINGTON, DC (NASA PR) — The Independent Review Board (IRB) established by NASA to assess progress on its James Webb Space Telescope has unanimously recommended that development on the world’s premier science observatory should continue; NASA has established a new launch date for Webb of March 30, 2021.

A report issued by the review board addresses a range of factors influencing Webb’s schedule and performance, including the technical challenges and tasks remaining by primary contractor Northrop Grumman before launch.

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GAO: James Webb Space Telescope Keeps Slipping Into the Future

Artist’s impression of James Webb Space Telescope. (Credit; NASA)

NASA’s massive James Webb Space Telescope continues to pile up cost overruns and schedule delays as it prepares to exceed the $8 billion cap placed on the program by Congress.

“The project and observatory contractor significantly underestimated the time required to complete integration and test work on the spacecraft element,” according to a new assessment by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). “Execution of spacecraft integration and test tasks was much slower than planned due to a variety of challenges including complexity of work and reach and access limitations on flight hardware.

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House Measure Would Boost NASA Budget to $21.5 Billion

The House Appropriations Committee has released a draft bill that would increase NASA’s budget to $21.5 billion for fiscal year 2019. The total would be an increase of $810 million above the enacted amount for FY 2018 and $1.6 billion more than the Trump Administration requested.

NASA would spend $5.1 billion on deep space exploration, an increase of $294 million. The total includes $504 million for the Lunar Orbital Platform — Gateway.

Science would also be boosted by $459 million to $6.7 billion. The total includes $740 million for a Europa orbiter and lander.

Complete details on the proposed budget are still lacking. Below is what the committee has released thus far.
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NASA’s Major Project Costs & Schedule Performance Deteriorated in 2018

NASA: Assessments of Major Projects
Government Accountability Office
May 1, 2018
Full Report

What GAO Found

The cost and schedule performance of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) portfolio of major projects has deteriorated, but the extent of cost performance deterioration is unknown. NASA expects cost growth for the Orion crew capsule—one of the largest projects in the portfolio—but does not have a current cost estimate. In addition, the average launch delay for the portfolio was 12 months, the highest delay GAO has reported in its 10 years of assessing major NASA projects (see figure below).

The deterioration in portfolio performance was the result of 9 of the 17 projects in development experiencing cost or schedule growth.

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NASA Delays Launch of James Webb Space Telescope to 2020

Artist’s impression of James Webb Space Telescope. (Credit; NASA)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope currently is undergoing final integration and test phases that will require more time to ensure a successful mission. After an independent assessment of remaining tasks for the highly complex space observatory, Webb’s previously revised 2019 launch window now is targeted for approximately May 2020.

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A Closer Look at NASA’s FY 2018 Budget


by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Despite a last minute threat of a veto, President Donald Trump signed an $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill on Friday that boosts NASA spending by about $1.1 billion to $20.7 billion.

So, with the fiscal year nearly half over, let’s take a closer look at NASA’s FY 2018 budget, which the Administration had tried to cut. The table below lays out the numbers from the omnibus bill, the Administration’s request and the FY 2017 budget.

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Omnibus Spending Bill Includes $20.7 Billion for NASA


by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Well, now that spring has arrived, it’s time for Congress to get around to passing the 2018 budget that was due in time for the start of the fiscal year last Oct. 1 — that is to say, nearly two seasons ago.

Yes, we went through all of winter, most of fall and a couple of days of spring before Congress got around to cobbling together a spending bill. On Wednesday, the House released a $1.3 trillion omnibus bill that is 2,232 pages long.

They say good things happen to those who wait; in this case, that patience may well pay off for NASA (not that the agency any choice in the matter).

The space agency’s budget would be boosted to $20.7 billion. The budget would be $1.1 billion above the $19.6 billion NASA received in FY 2017 and $1.6 billion above the $19.1 billion the Trump Administration proposed to spend in FY 2018.

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GAO: NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope Faces Potential Cost Overruns, Delays

Artist’s impression of James Webb Space Telescope. (Credit; NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) says NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is at risk of budget overruns and further schedule delays.

“JWST will also have limited cost reserves to address future challenges, such as further launch delays, and is at risk of breaching its $8 billion cost cap for formulation and development set by Congress in 2011,” GAO said in its annual review of the project. “For several years, the prime contractor has overestimated workforce reductions, and technical challenges have prevented these planned reductions, necessitating the use of cost reserves.”

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NASA Works With Other Agencies for In-Space Assembly Development

NASA Office of the Chief Technologist team members, including Acting Chief Technologist Douglas Terrier (center), Acting Deputy Chief Technologist Vicki Crisp (left) and Strategic Parternships Lead Erica Rodgers (right) listen as Naval Research Laboratory Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites Program Lead Roboticist Glen Henshaw gives a presentation about in-space development capabilities. (Credit: Naval Research Laboratory)

WASHINGTON, DC (NASA PR) — A robot stretches its limbs and systematically climbs across a tubular structure, using the truss’s crossbars as handholds; one limb after another, it reaches and grabs the next handhold while releasing the ones behind it. Pulling itself along, it inspects the structure it just assembled in space.

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ESA Signs Contracts to Improve Ariane 5, Vega Boosters

Vega launch vehicle (Credit: ESA–Stephane Corvaja, 2015)

PARIS (ESA PR) — ESA Director of Space Transportation, Daniel Neuenschwander, signed five contracts with industry at the Paris Air and Space show in France this week.

“Five contracts, one goal: to consolidate space transportation services and capacities for the benefit of Europe’s competitiveness,” he commented.

Contracts signed with ELV SpA and Airbus Safran Launchers will improve launch performance and flexibility, and maintain the competitiveness of Europe’s current and future space transportation systems.

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Mikulski Decides 40 Years in Congress is Enough

Sen. Barbara Mikulski
Sen. Barbara Mikulski

Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski announced on Monday that she would not be seeking a sixth term next year, bringing a 40-year Congressional career to an end and depriving NASA of one of its most powerful supporters.

Mikulski, 78, said she would rather spend the next two years working on behalf of her constituents rather than raising money and running for re-election. She has served in the Senate since 1987 following a 10-year stint representing Maryland’s 3rd District in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Mikulski is the ranking Democratic member of the Senate Appropriations Committee and the committee’s Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS) subcommittee, which oversees NASA’s budget. She headed the Appropriations Committee from December 2012 until January 2015.

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Oscar Winning Actor Eddie Redmayne’s PSA for NASA

Video Caption: Stephen Hawking, one of the most prominent cosmologists of our time, has given voice to the great heights humanity can achieve. Recently, actor Eddie Redmayne, who plays Professor Hawking in the film “The Theory of Everything,” took time to explain the inspirational relationship between Professor Hawking and NASA’s mission and programs.