Jul 16, 2020 - Science

NASA's next great space observatory delayed until October 2021

The James Webb Space Telescope in testing

The James Webb Space Telescope. Photo: NASA/Chris Gunn

The launch of NASA's James Webb Space Telescope has been delayed from March to October 31, 2021, in part due to the coronavirus pandemic, the space agency announced Thursday.

Why it matters: The Webb is designed to be the space agency's successor to the Hubble Space Telescope as it nears the end of its operational life.

  • Once in space, the new observatory is expected to beam back never-before-seen images of the universe and help scientists learn more about galaxies, stars, distant planets and other objects.

Details: Three or more months of the delay are due to the coronavirus, according to NASA, with about four months attributed to technical issues.

  • “Webb is the world’s most complex space observatory, and our top science priority, and we’ve worked hard to keep progress moving during the pandemic," NASA associate administrator Thomas Zurbuchen said in a statement.
  • According to NASA, despite the holdup, the cost of the development of the observatory shouldn't exceed its current $8.8 billion cost cap.
  • NASA will continue testing the observatory this year and attempt to mitigate the continued risks posed by the pandemic before shipping the spacecraft to its launch site in Kourou, French Guiana.

The big picture: This isn't the first delay for the Webb. The observatory has been plagued with technical issues and budget overruns that caused its price tag to skyrocket and delayed its launch for years.

Go deeper