NASA Announces Work Suspension on James Webb Space Telescope Because of the Coronavirus

In what has now become a regular event, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine has also announced that the work on the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is canceled because of the coronavirus crisis. The resolution is most probably going to postpone the astrophysics project’s planned launch date in March 2021.

The statement said that both NASA and Northrop Grumman are ‘suspending integration and testing operations’ on the multi-billion-dollar observatory, which is currently set for some testing at a Northrop Grumman plant in California.

The Suspension Will Affect the Launch Date

Although the governor of the state issued a stay-at-home order for the residents, exceptions include workers in important manufacturing industries, such as the production of aerospace parts. Still, NASA officials confirmed on Friday that they decided to suspend the work on JWST while adding that the resolutions can be changed as the situation keeps unrolling.

Thomas Zurbuchen, chief of NASA’s science mission department, said that a few team members needed to supervise and participate in testing of JWST were not able to come to California. There are travel restrictions, Zurbuchen said, and the space agency also wants to make sure employees that were scheduled to be in California to oversee the testing are with their families.

“There’s a tremendous risk with travel across the country and internationally, and limitations that come down from the government,” he said. “We, of course, want to follow that. NASA and international personnel required onsite for upcoming tests and deployments cannot be present as scheduled. That will lead to changes in our schedule.”

The Webb telescope, named after the former NASA Administrator James Webb, is now scheduled for launch on March 30th, 2021. That debut date was already unstable before the COVID-19 pandemic changed the test plans in California.

With little room for error, the decision to cancel the work on JWST is expected to further delay the launch.

“It’s anticipated that by early April, the Webb project will be experiencing a day-for-day scheduling impact to its critical path,” Zurbuchen said on Friday.

JWST is 100 Times More Powerful Than Hubble

The teams working on the observatory connected the spacecraft and science modules of JWST back in August, completing the whole structure for the first time. With the Webb Space Telescope fully formed, engineers at Northrop Grumman planned to put it through a set of deployment, electrical, vibration, as well as acoustic tests to make sure it will function properly after launching on board of the European Ariane 5 rocket that will take off from French Guiana.

Before the beginning of the last environmental test operation, which was scheduled for this spring before the outbreak occurred, technicians switched traveling wave tube amplifiers and a command and telemetry processor on the telescope. The hardware showed some issues during earlier testing.

Researchers say that the James Webb Space Telescope’s four infrared science tools, which were created by the United States, European, and Canadian facilities, will see the first stars and galaxies in the Universe, analyzing light generated about 13. billion years ago.

With imaging power 100 times that of the Hubble Space Telescope, JWST will also observe star-creating nebulas and gather information on the physical and chemical properties of planets orbiting other stars.

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