Congress, Lobbying, NASA, White House

What will be caught in Webb’s budgetary web?

On Monday Aviation Week and Nature reported on the latest cost estimate for building and operating the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST): $8.7 billion. That includes the costs to build and launch the telescope, as well as five years of science operations. That new total figure should not be surprising: last month Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee’s Commerce, Justice, and Science Subcommittee, said the GAO has estimated the telescope’s cost at $7.8-8.0 billion. Excluding the five years of science operations from the new NASA cost estimate brings the JWST cost back to $8 billion.

So how does NASA propose to cover these additional costs? According to Nature, NASA is seeking to split the costs on a 50:50 basis between the agency’s science account and the rest of the agency. That could mean over half a billion dollars could be taken from exploration, technology, aeronautics, and other non-science programs over several years to cover those costs, should the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) approve NASA’s proposal. OMB has been studying the plan for several weeks, according to Nature, but hasn’t signed off on it yet.

Then there’s the issue of winning funding for fiscal year 2012 for JWST, given that the legislation the House Appropriations Committee approved last month included no funding for the telescope. JWST advocates are cautiously optimistic that some funding for the telescope can be restored later in the appropriations process. Representatives of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) met with House staffers earlier this month and found some support for the telescope even from the office of Rep. Wolf. “The staff expressed Rep. Wolf’s belief that JWST has an extremely strong science merit,” the AAS noted in a blog post late last week. “The staff commented that they have been inundated by social media correspondence about JWST and have made note of recent editorials in the NY Times and Washington Post.” Cutting JWST’s budget in committee, the report suggests, was a maneuver to “get NASA’s attention on these broader, Agency-wide management issues at the highest levels.” The AAS statement added that the organization is “hopeful” Congress will work out a deal to fund JWST in 2012.

54 comments to What will be caught in Webb’s budgetary web?

  • tom

    8.7 billion…. what could commercial space do with that?
    it’s also = to about 2.7 space shuttles (including ssmes).
    I worked JWST, she needs to end and the ISIM fly on a different s/c with a different contractor. no need for L2. think axaf-i and axaf-f

  • amightywind

    Nothing was said about the reasons for the overruns. Incompetence, technical difficulties, mismanagement? I have always found the JWST design a little hokey. And I really don’t like the idea of it being launched by an Arianne.
    Until we know more about what went wrong how can they throw more money at the problem. I am vehemently opposed to transferring exploration funds to this black hole. What sense does it make to study the cosmic dark ages with JWST if it leads to a space exploration dark age in its wake?

  • JWST funds going to a resurrected ARES 1 Red State jobs program? Good luck with that one and getting it signed by the Obamanator.

    Ain’t gonna happen Windy.

  • Michael from Iowa

    Fun fact – Total construction plus servicing missions for the Hubble Space Telescope bring its final operating cost at more than 15 times its original budget.

    The JWST could be paid for in four years if we cut the SLS and allocated those funds to the telescope – a much better use of the taxpayer’s money.

  • JohnHunt

    > 8.7 billion…. what could commercial space do with that?

    22 different, new medium-lift rockets (like Falcon 9). Or, put another way:
    – the Falcon Heavy,
    – a new EDS,
    – a commercial OTV,
    – a commercial fuel depot,
    – an Armadillo lunar lander,
    – a simple lunar polar prospecting mission, and
    – the start of teleoperated lunar ice harvesting.

    …but we wouldn’t be getting all of those cool false-color pictures.

  • amightywind

    JWST funds going to a resurrected ARES 1 Red State jobs program?

    No. More like don’t let the cost overruns of silly, extravagant, JWST design hobble the SLS program.

  • Doug Lassiter

    I have been a very strong supporter of JWST, but the fiscal trainwreck on that project over the last decade is hard to stomach. It’s worth taking a close look at the current advocacy for JWST rescue that is being promoted by the science community.

    That JWST represents truly awesome science isn’t arguable. But the idea that termination of the project means the loss of awesome science is not well founded. In principle, that money could go to any of many other space astronomy projects, also promising awesome science, that were thrown overboard because of JWST overruns. These other projects could actually provide their awesome science before the 2018 notional (and what is probably optimistic) launch date for JWST. Let’s be clear. The science that is lost if JWST were to be cancelled is JWST science. Not LISA, SIM, or even WFIRST science.

    That JWST is a matter of national pride and survival for U.S. space astronomy is, in this respect, not well founded. JWST is going to eat NASA R&D money for many other missions, and the space astronomy community will be forced, mission design-wise, to sit on it’s hands for a decade. That’s not a compelling survival strategy for a community. The younger members of that community should be especially concerned.

    It should be very uncomfortable to the astronomy community that JWST is going to end up eating the lunch of other NASA endeavors, including science. This is exactly what Goldin tried to do to science with Constellation, and now the tables are turned. Once JWST is launched, it’ll be payback time.

    You know what? Even if JWST is saved, we won’t see any of the awesome science from it for almost ten years. As other communities get their lunch stolen, it’s going to be hard to reassure them for a decade by pointing at empty picture frames of the early universe.

    What I find increasingly irritating are the naive and shrill pleas by the science community to continue JWST — not so much because we have new assurances of managerial competence, and admission of past mistakes, but because the awesomeness of the science should in some way forgive a fiscal trainwreck. If they find funds to continue JWST, Congress will not, and should not, forgive that mismanagement so easily. The astronomy community should understand that JWST will be the last flagship space program it gets to do for a long, long time. Again, younger members of the community should take note.

    OK, maybe magic will happen, and half a billion dollars per year will come raining down out of the sky (SLS cancellation?) as the NASA budget declines. Yes, $3B is a lot of sunk costs to lose. But maybe it’s time to pull the plug and move on. NASA has spent far more money than that learning hard lessons.

  • Save some Cash

    amightywind wrote @ August 23rd, 2011 at 10:32 am

    No. More like don’t let the cost overruns of silly, extravagant, JWST design hobble the SLS program.

    Better to axe them both and save at least 50B$ over the next 10 years.

    Close MSFC and JSC – move everything back to Langley, Glenn or Ames.

  • vulture4

    The original AURA 4 meter proposal did not require a segmented mirror and had much lower technological risk. Probably it would already be in space. The problems originated when Dan Golden doubled the diameter of the mirror, apparently on a whim. Why didn’t anybody say “no”? Maybe because of the NASA tradition that we can do anything with unlimited funds.

    There is far too much to study in space for one telescope, no matter how big. it is a cardinal error to think there is “one” question to be answered. It makes more sense to take a more evolutionary course, with a series of smaller telescopes, one always under construction as the lessons are learned form the last, reducing operational costs so that multiple scopes can be operating simultaneously.

  • Coastal Ron

    Anyone know what the cost drivers are for the telescope part?

    If they used a Falcon Heavy instead of the Ariane 5, which should eliminate weight constraints, would that allow them to save any money? Or are the costs in areas not related to weight, like sensor design or cooling systems?

  • Vladislaw

    Once again it is not about space, but about protecting the “traditional” NASA way of doing their job. We saw it with Constellation, we see it with the James Webb, we will see it with SLS. Protect the jobs in certain districts, protect the pork to certain members in congress, protect the campaign contributions from the cost plus contractors.

  • amightywind

    Better to axe them both and save at least 50B$ over the next 10 years.

    And do what, pay pensions for people who did not earn them? I’d rather spend the money on large rockets.

    This is exactly what Goldin tried to do to science with Constellation, and now the tables are turned.

    It’s true. I’m glad Mike Griffin was there to clean up the mess.

    What bothers me about wildly successful programs like Hubble and the Mars Rovers is the loss of engineering continuity to the next generation. Both programs should have mitigated risk to JWST and MSL. Instead it seems that the bumblers who designed them started from a clean sheet of paper.

    The recent Opportunity panoramas are breathtaking.

  • Doug Lassiter

    Excuse me, I meant to say that “This is exactly what Griffin tried to do to science with Constellation, and now the tables are turned.”

    Dan G. would never have done that …

  • Robert G. Oler

    The problem (or at least one of them) with this estimate is that there is nothing that gives one confidence that it is accurate. Nothing. RGO

  • Spaces

    I don’t think they will take it from SLS. Plus, the SLS study just came back and it appears that it was costed correctly so JWST might have to take some $ from commercial.

  • DCSCA

    @tom wrote @ August 23rd, 2011 at 7:56 am
    “8.7 billion…. what could commercial space do with that?”

    Gee, why don’t they try to get financing from capital markets in the private sector and show us rather than from the government. Sheesh. This project is a classic example of a unaffordable luxury for this era.

    Kill it.

  • DCSCA

    JohnHunt wrote @ August 23rd, 2011 at 10:22 am

    Great- go ask for financing from the private capital markets.

  • Bennett

    Doug Lassiter wrote @ August 23rd, 2011 at 11:01 am

    Excellent analysis, Doug.

    vulture4 wrote “It makes more sense to take a more evolutionary course, with a series of smaller telescopes, one always under construction as the lessons are learned form the last”

    Agreed, and NASA should keep the segmented mirrors for future use. Some bright engineer will come up with a way to use them for a heck of a lot less than 10 billion additional dollars.

  • E.P. Grondine

    It’s indicative of the mind set here that no one has brought up the simultaneous cost over run on the next Mars rover.

    Factually, Goldin did not specify the mirror diameter on a whim. There were studies of alternative designs with alternative capacities. I don’t know how the final decision was made, and I don’t know if anyone here does.

    From my perspective, $3 billion is 3,000 x$1,000,000 dollars.
    NASA NEO detection budgets were running at $4 x $1,000,000 dollars;
    they were supposed to go now to $20 x $1,000,000 dollars.
    I don’t think that anyone here knows what they actually are this year.

    Now ask yourself, what is more important, finding the next piece of s*** from space headed our way in time to do something, anything, or understanding some of the grand mysteries of physics and life,
    mysteries that can be worked on at some future time?

    Your conclusions will be based on what you guess the chances are of anything from space hitting real soon and your estimates of the damage it will do. I am fairly certain that my estimates and perspective differs from yours.

    On a professional basis, there is no excuse for low-balling estimates of the impact hazard, and no excuse for doing so. In fact, on a professional level, those estimates must be as precise as possible.

    Politically, We all know the centers and contractors involved.
    At this point, all I can do is sit back and watch how it all plays out.

  • NASA Fan

    @ Doug L

    Indeed, the era of flagship missions is over. Certainly HQ and Congress do not have the stomach to support another flagship.. These beasts are way too complicated to ever get an accurate cost and schedule estimate. And the NASA 7120 Project Management process doesn’t put NASA on a hook , in committing to costs, till the end of Phase B; by that time, a future flag ship mission has spent billions.

    So don’t look for flagship missions anymore out of science (JPL learned that lesson with the launch of Cassini, and seems to have forgotten it with MSL)

    And too bad for astrophysics, where the science that is compelling and ground breaking needs long focal length optics, big mirrors, etc. All of which translates into BIG MONEY.

    If scientist want to go after big toys, they probably need to marry themselves up with human space flight, which is looking for something to do.

    Hauling pieces of telescopes into space, for astro’s to assemble, takes the risk out of a single launch failure leading to a very bad day (cross those fingers for Arianne JWST fans!). it allows for chunks of flag ship missions to be launched piecemeal, it gives HSF something to do,,,etc. etc.

    But, probably won’t happen. Dr. Weiler for one, can’t stand relying on anything to do with HSF. He is not alone.

    As NASA’s budget continues to decline, as an organization, all the mission directorates need to be in sync with each other, supporting a common set of goals that they all (and their dwindling resources) can get behind. I think O’Keefe tried this before he left post Columbia.

  • Doug Lassiter

    Coastal Ron wrote @ August 23rd, 2011 at 12:21 pm
    “If they used a Falcon Heavy instead of the Ariane 5, which should eliminate weight constraints, would that allow them to save any money? Or are the costs in areas not related to weight, like sensor design or cooling systems?”

    Irrelevant. The major pieces of the telescope are designed and under construction. You redesign the telescope, and you might as well start over. Talk about sunk costs … Besides, who’s going to buy the Falcon Heavy? Ariane V is provided by ESA at no cost in exchange for observing time.

    The cost driver at this stage is I&T. For a cryogenic observatory the size of a tennis court with a huge number of actuators, I&T is a BIG DEAL. Read the Casani report.

    I agree with the suggestion that in-space assembly (whether done by astronauts or telerobotically) is the way to go. Such capability would be hugely important when there is a deployment failure or in order to service the observatory, a la HST, to extend the lifetime. But that’s right. Weiler will have nothing of it. I guess he can’t stand having anything to do with HSF unless it’s taking money from them. Goodness knows, however, there is a lot to justify his reluctance to depend on them.

  • the SLS study just came back and it appears that it was costed correctly

    It only appears that way to people who are unable to read for comprehension. And even if the cost is correct, it remains outrageous, and unsustainable.

  • Coastal Ron

    NASA Fan wrote @ August 23rd, 2011 at 5:31 pm

    Hauling pieces of telescopes into space, for astro’s to assemble, takes the risk out of a single launch failure leading to a very bad day (cross those fingers for Arianne JWST fans!).

    You bring up an interesting point. Unlike commercial satellites, which rely on a commercial satellite bus and a certain degree of design reuse, NASA’s space missions are usually custom made spacecraft. I see the potential for some disruptive technology here if we were to combine the following:

    - autonomous docking
    - in-space fueling
    - standardized exploration bus
    - lower launch costs

    Let’s look at a planetary probe. If a contractor (not NASA) had a standard transportation bus that could be used for sending probes to other planets, that would remove some of the development time from NASA’s probe program, and hopefully lower their overall costs.

    To further reduce risk, and to make up for the inefficiencies that a standard bus has vs a highly specialized one, you could launch that bus ahead of time into orbit to await the probe. If need be the bus could be fueled up while in orbit, which reduces further the size of the launcher needed. With autonomous docking, the probe would launch on it’s own rocket, and rendezvous with the bus.

    The pluses and minuses have to be weighed, but I think over time this provides more benefits than problems. Yes there are more launches and docking events, but launchers are pretty reliable today, and we need to perfect autonomous docking anyways, as well as in-space refueling, so that improves our skills overall. And if one part fails, like the bus launch, you don’t lose the whole probe.

    I’m just trying to figure out how some of the cost issues the JWST is experiencing can be addressed for not only JWST, but future programs too. How do we lower the overall cost to do science in space?

    My $0.02

  • NASA Fan

    @ Coastal Ron

    Great idea!

    And, NASA would have to give up the idea of designing missions around science requirements.

    Rather, science would have to figure out what science could be done, given a fixed bus, fixed budget, fixed schedule, fixed other parameters.

    The way it works now, every mission is uniquely designed around science requirements, which drives up costs and reduces the ability to drive down costs by standardizing much of the hardware systems.

  • Fred Willett

    Spaces wrote @ August 23rd, 2011 at 3:13 pm
    Plus, the SLS study just came back and it appears that it was costed correctly…
    Far from it The report said you could accept the figures for the first 3-5 years as OK but beyond that there are assumptions of savings that are totally guesswork and no provisions for handling unknowns.
    The result will be inevitable cost overruns once again.

  • -NASA’s Rover/NERVA Budget-
    Year.’61=17.6 million dollars
    ’62=36.9
    ’63=81.4
    ’64=84.7
    ’65=57.6
    ’66=58.1
    ’67=55.4
    ’68=54.3
    ’69=33.1
    ’70=36.3
    ’71=38.0
    ’72=15.0
    ’73=8.5
    total:576.9 million dollars
    Still rather cheap compared to other big ticket NASA project costs in today’s devalued USDs notice the Fed gold window closed in ’72-’73. Of course in the day it was a strong production USDs not leveraged USDs.

  • Vladislaw

    ” the SLS study just came back and it appears that it was costed correctly”

    It was an ICE, independant cost estimate, not a study. The only thing I saw that was released was the executive summary.

    How you could read that and come to that conclusion escapes me. They said that there was little confidence in the costs. They also said that for some parts there was no documention. Or there was not enough documentation that could support the estimates.

    If you look at the sections that utilizes harvey balls it clearly shows where there was either lack of documentation or that they did not follow guidelines to arrive at the projected costs.

    The only thing that was said that would support SLS at the projected costs was for budgeting in the 3-5 year timeline after that they said all the costs are overly optimistic or a clear line of costs could not be estimated.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Spaces wrote @ August 23rd, 2011 at 3:13 pm

    “I don’t think they will take it from SLS. Plus, the SLS study just came back and it appears that it was costed correctly”

    sorry no, that is not the conclusion RGO

  • tom

    JWST will see to the 1st 500,000 years of the universe! What science! This grand opportunity was lost due to incompetence @ NASA and NG. Just bloody sad. The instruments will fly one day, but on a different s/c and maybe @ LEO like Hubble. The biggest reason for going to L2 was to keep NASA from servicing the telescope. Much time/money was wasted. So much that the IG should get a US Att. to sue and get some of the money back.

  • Jeff Foust

    Please note this post is about JWST, not the recent SLS study. Please direct your comments accordingly to keep the discussion on-topic. As always, thanks for your cooperation.

  • Coastal Ron

    NASA Fan wrote @ August 23rd, 2011 at 7:41 pm

    Rather, science would have to figure out what science could be done, given a fixed bus, fixed budget, fixed schedule, fixed other parameters.

    I think one of the things that we may have learned from the Faster, Better, Cheaper (FBC) phase of NASA exploration is that while they focused on less expensive missions, they didn’t try to commoditize any of the hardware to really save money.

    Maybe there weren’t enough capabilities in place in order to do that, but if not, then I think we’re getting pretty close now. Just as SpaceX has used Disruptive Technology in order to lower costs, so too can NASA if they really wanted to, and they were allowed to.

    Some day the order will come down to “use what we have” instead of “build the best you can”, whether it’s robotic or HSF, and that’s when we’ll see lots of activity start happening, and all without having to wait decades or spend ten’s of $Billions on a rocket that no one needs.

  • Beancounter from Downunder

    The whole unfortunate issue with the JWST is that like any research project, you don’t know what you don’t know. It was cutting edge and that’s where the initial mistake was made imo.
    If you’re going to do a project that requires operational hardware in space where you can’t service or upgrade it, then it needs to be operatonal here on Earth before you send it into space.
    Do the research as a research project. Do the operational hardware as the follow-on for successful research. Don’t mix them or the result is what we have today. Blown budgets and escalating costs and no-one really understanding where it will end.
    I don’t understand what’s so hard about that. It works everywhere else, why is NASA different? Is it arrogance? No wait! What it is, is having previously unconstrained spending habits, and a culture where mistakes and budget overruns are accepted with no consequences.
    JM2CW.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Webb is Galileo, except it is more expensive…first off there is no indication that they can get Webb on track…and then secondly it is everything…if it doesnt work or is lost in a launch incident or …..then not only lots of billions go down the tube but almost a generation of work go with it…

    in the meantime a whole generation of “other” projects and the people who would work on them dies, other projects run out of money and in the end when the project “turds” then everyone wonders why we did this foolish thing.

    it is time to pull the plug on this thing RGO

  • Doug Lassiter

    tom wrote @ August 23rd, 2011 at 8:53 pm
    “The biggest reason for going to L2 was to keep NASA from servicing the telescope.”

    Simply false. Earth-Sun L2 is a semistable location at which the Earth and Moon are far away (but close enough for good comm), and always in the same direction as the Sun. From this venue, and pretty much from this venue only, passive cryogenic cooling for a telescope that desperately needs to be cold can be simply accomplished. No expendable cryogens are needed for the telescope at that location.

    Now, that’s not to forgive NASA for not designing it to be serviceable. A telescope there can easily be brought back to Earth-Moon L1 or L2, a much more convenient servicing location, where that servicing can be done by humans or telerobots. After it is serviced, the telescope can be easily returned to the observing site. If you’re sporty, I guess you could send people out to Earth-Sun L2 instead.

    NASA Fan wrote @ August 23rd, 2011 at 7:41 pm
    “Great idea! And NASA would have to give up the idea of designing missions around science requirements.”
    “The way it works now, every mission is uniquely designed around science requirements.”

    What a dumb thing to do! Why in the world would a science mission ever be designed around science requirements?

    You want to try that one again?

  • tom

    You’re wrong Doug. L2 was selected to prevent servicing. 100% the reason. JWST has to rely on the DSN for support and needs 4 hours of DSN time everyday. Very expensive. If you don’t that time, you lose science. Every day on JWST is margin you will never get back. JWST was never cutting edge (well, except the mirrors). Just looked cool. The spacecraft bus and ISIM are nothing new. The instruments are awesome (but not cutting edge). Just some of the best ever made.

  • tom

    Also…. Little know fact No. 8897 – Back in 1993 a move was made, agreed to and reached (including congress) to close MSFC. But they could not afford to close out the existing contract (ISS, SSME, ET/SRB program offices, HOSC, etc. and move them to other centers) Now that may not be so hard. So much is gone and leaving in the next 80 or so days. Some see MSFC mission changing to being more like APl/JPL but for propulsion and payloads. Maybe MSFC days are numbered.

  • DCSCA

    Robert G. Oler wrote @ August 23rd, 2011 at 10:35 pm

    “it is time to pull the plug on this thing.”

    Alert the press: we agree. Killing this can be NASA’s first big contribution to the Age of Austerity and make it a lot easier to say ‘we’ve already given at the office’ when rounds 2,3 and 4 of budget cutting comes in the times ahead..

    @tom wrote @ August 23rd, 2011 at 8:53 pm
    “JWST will see to the 1st 500,000 years of the universe!”

    So? It’s not going anyplace AND can wait another 25 years- a generation- to be seen while Americans get their house in fiscal order or some other deep-pocketed nation thinks its worth funding.

  • Martijn Meijering

    Maybe MSFC days are numbered.

    Let’s hope so.

  • Alan

    What is wrong with putting the instruments on a less ambitious (i.e. smaller mirror sized and human/robotic-serviceable) spacecraft? JWST is clearly too complex which is creating significant technical risk and uncertainty.

    We also need a “Red Queen moment” with the senior technical and management chain – “Off with their heads” – for such a serious technical and programmatic blunder. Significant and substantial demotions or firings would be necessary and a good example to all other NASA programs. The message needs to be that realistic mission goals and reliable budget estimates need to be provided and cost-plus contracts need to be avoided. Contractors need to feel the pain for bad estimates on their part.

    If you don’t believe that the house cleaning can’t happen, go look at the VH-71 Kestral or the Crusader gun system.

  • NASA Fan

    @Coastal Ron:

    Faster better cheaper worked for the original SMEX missions that were centered at Goddard. Every subsequent mission was cheaper than it’s predecessor. Indeed, the last two gave money back to the Explorer Program.

    Why did that work? A core group of folks carried lessons learned forward into the next mission, and there were many s/c subsystems that could be used for subsequent mission.

    Like all things that show promise at NASA, it was cancelled in favor of doing this in PI mode. So, no lessons learned carried over, and unique hardware for every mission.

    @ Doug L

    Scientists need to be told: Here it the budget. Here is the s/c bus. Here is the schedule. Figure out what science you can do given those constraints.

    The way it is now everything, cost, schedule, hardware, are all driven by meeting a made up set of science requirements. Scientists are brilliant and can figure out what they can get done given a set of constraints. Indeed, you will see clever implementation of instrument designs as a result. They are smart , they’ll figure it out.

  • Major Tom

    By the time JWST is over, it’s going to be more than $10 billion. The entire astrophysics budget at NASA is only $1.1 billion annually. JWST will roughly consume a decade’s worth of NASA astrophysics funding.

    At that scale of oppotunity cost to astrophysics research, I don’t know how NASA, the White House, or Congress can proceed with JWST without going back to the astrophysics community to determine whether community is willing to pay this price for this telescope. Astrophysics research priorities are determined by decadal surveys at that National Academies, and if JWST is carried to conclusion, it will be the only space-based priority that survives from the prior decadal survey as well as the most recent one.

    I think there’s no choice at this point but to go back to the National Academies and let the astrophysics community determine whether JWST should go forward or whether the JWST budget should be spent on other astrophysics projects and what those projects are in the context of the most recent and prior decadal survey.

    U.S. astrophysics research is going to pay a very, very heavy price for JWST, and we don’t understand what the opportunity cost of that price is. A sanity check and a gut check with the astrophysics community is much needed, and the only way to do that is to go back to the National Acadmies.

    My 2 cents… FWIW.

  • Major Tom

    Good commentary from an astrophysicist about the opportunity cost of JWST, as well as parallels to what happened to particle physics research in the U.S. when that community put all their eggs into the SSC basket:

    “Are We Watching NASA Astrophysics Commit Suicide?”

    http://scienceblogs.com/startswithabang/2011/08/are_we_watching_nasa_astrophys.php

    FWIW…

  • Doug Lassiter

    tom wrote @ August 24th, 2011 at 1:09 am
    “You’re wrong Doug. L2 was selected to prevent servicing. 100% the reason.”

    Really? Then I guess it’s just a coincidence that most of the astrophysics fleet of missions (many of which are too small and too limited-purpose to even derive value from servicing) have been, or are being aimed at, Earth-Sun L2. OK, you can assume if you want that Dan Goldin, Len Fisk or Wes Huntress had smiles on their faces when it was shown to them that LEO wasn’t a good place to put JWST, but the L2 site certainly wasn’t chosen to prevent servicing.

    You’re worried about DSN costs? DSN is cheap. Really cheap, compared with keeping a telescope at 40K near the Earth, having it stay in thermal equilibrium as it scoots in and out of shadow. L2 provides sunlight 24/7, which LEO doesn’t. That greatly simplifies power systems, as well as thermal control. Also, JWST at L2 is cheap compared to a similarly sized near-Earth telescope that somehow offers opportunities for deep integration over a large fraction of the sky. Nothing rises or sets at L2. Don’t even get me talking about debris threats in LEO for a precisely figured and polished 6-meter diameter mirror!

    Not sure what kind of gold-plated DSN you’re referring to. These days, large aperture DSN costs about $10K/hr. We’re talking about an $8B mission! Totally different scales.

    In fact, my second paragraph in my original response to you proves you wrong. It is now well understood that facilities operating at the Earth-Sun Lagrange points can be trivially brought back and forth to the Earth-Moon Lagrange points, where servicing would be far easier. Doing telescope servicing at Earth-Moon L1 has been a major planning goal for deep space hab concept studies. So putting something at Earth-Sun L2 is a pretty dumb way to make it unserviceable.

    So, let’s have it. Where in your mind would have been a better place to put JWST?

    No, what makes JWST unserviceable isn’t where it was put, but that it wasn’t engineered to be serviced. That, I will agree, was a sad decision. One that the latest NASA authorization legislation specifically discourages for future large missions.

  • Doug Lassiter

    NASA Fan wrote @ August 24th, 2011 at 8:46 am
    “Scientists need to be told: Here it the budget. Here is the s/c bus. Here is the schedule. Figure out what science you can do given those constraints.”

    Wherever do you get the idea that this isn’t what happened? The problem was that the engineers who were entrusted with figuring out what science could be done given those constraints messed up supremely. It has nothing to do with being provided with a specific s/c bus, which is a tiny part of the total mission budget.

    So your suggestion that scientists simply spend the money they are given is simplistic, as it ignores what appears to be a major (and highly non-science-based) problem in cost estimation. This is a problem that is hardly restricted to NASA science, but is endemic throughout the high technology industry, and especially throughout NASA.

  • Dennis

    First, I am also for commercial development, but when some of you claim: What could commercial do with the money from the JWST, I think you are jumping the gun here. We do not know if private space companies can deliver on their promises yet. Everyone keeps saying Falcon heavy, Falcon heavy, hey it hasnt flown yet and is still a year away. All those engines involved. Dont count your chickens before they hatch. I hope Falcon heavy is successful, but with the recent events and loss of rockets this past week, from both China and Russia, it shows spaceflight is still pretty ifffffyyyy!!!!

  • Coastal Ron

    Dennis wrote @ August 24th, 2011 at 12:16 pm

    but when some of you claim: What could commercial do with the money from the JWST, I think you are jumping the gun here.

    You’re misreading and making up false arguments.

    And in any case, NASA is mainly a contracting organization, and doesn’t do much real work itself beyond research and management. The vast majority of NASA’s budgets go to contracts with, you guessed it, commercial companies. Here’s the top four from 2010:

    1 Lockheed Martin Corp. – $3,586,946,390 20.49%
    2 Boeing Co. – 2,742,231,083 15.67
    3 California Institute of Technology – 1,748,922,856 9.99
    4 Alliant Techsystems Inc. – 710,967,241 4.06

    Now that reflects Shuttle program spending, so the mix is changing now, but LM and Boeing are pretty big recipients of NASA’s money, and that wouldn’t change much with or without the SLS. #3 is for JPL, since it is a Federally Funded Research and Development Centers (FFRDCs) and managed under contract to NASA.

    The biggest loser would be #4 Alliant (aka ATK), since without the Shuttle SRB’s and SLS SRB’s their share of contracts will be drastically reduced, but they are a pretty diversified company, so they will survive just fine.

  • common sense

    @ amightywind wrote @ August 23rd, 2011 at 8:36 am

    “What sense does it make to study the cosmic dark ages with JWST if it leads to a space exploration dark age in its wake?”

    Difficult to grasp this right? Existentialism and all that. Why would it make sense to understand the beginning of our Universe if so doing prevents our species to send a handful of astronauts to the Moon? Why would it make sense to build particle accelerators to understand the founding of the Universe if so doing prevents our species to see golfers on the Moon? Why would it make sense to observe the Earth and its climate when so doing prevents our species from building a huge rocket with no purpose?

    Why ah why… All those difficult questions with no good answer.

  • Dennis

    First I do understand Boeing and the rest are commercial, however just what would they do with the JWST money? What would SpaceX do with it? I think if funding for the JWST ends, NO ONE will get it, except maybe the politicians.

  • common sense

    @ Dennis wrote @ August 24th, 2011 at 4:45 pm

    “First I do understand Boeing and the rest are commercial, however just what would they do with the JWST money? What would SpaceX do with it? I think if funding for the JWST ends, NO ONE will get it, except maybe the politicians.”

    ???? Who said either would get the JWST money? If JWST goes the money goes with it. Same for SLS. MPCV.

    Just watch.

  • Coastal Ron

    Dennis wrote @ August 24th, 2011 at 4:45 pm

    however just what would they do with the JWST money?

    That would be up to Congress and NASA, not contractors.

    I think if funding for the JWST ends, NO ONE will get it, except maybe the politicians.

    I think you need to go look at how our system of government works.

    Politicians don’t get to keep budget money. They can direct money to programs & projects in their home district, but otherwise they just get their paycheck. If Congress spends more than what comes in tax wise, then they are running a deficit, and the Treasury has to borrow money for any shortfalls. If Congress spends less than what comes in, then that’s a surplus that hopefully goes towards paying down our debt.

    Congress could cancel the JWST and just eliminate that amount of money from NASA’s budget. Or they could cancel the program and replace it with a new program that fits within NASA’s budget profile. Or they could allow the JWST to go over budget, but take money from other NASA programs to cover the shortfall. I don’t think it’s likely that NASA will be allocated extra money to cover any budget overages.

  • Rhyolite

    If JWST goes, the money will likely go back into the science budget to fund an alternative / replacement. It would also mean that money would not get pulled from many other small to medium sized science missions to fund the JWST beast.

  • common sense

    @ Rhyolite wrote @ August 24th, 2011 at 9:05 pm

    “If JWST goes, the money will likely go back into the science budget to fund an alternative / replacement.”

    Unclear to me during these times. It may or not. But if Congress and the WH are looking for cuts then it becomes a candidate for cuts. And therefore the money might not be reallocated.

  • Dennis

    Coastal Ron, I dont know, the politicians automatic raises will be guaranteed. I do realize how it works, it works the way THEY want it to.

  • Doug Lassiter

    Rhyolite wrote @ August 24th, 2011 at 9:05 pm
    “If JWST goes, the money will likely go back into the science budget to fund an alternative / replacement.”

    Also unclear to me that this will automatically happen. But one way to look at it is that JWST has perhaps actually become a bad thing for space astrophysics, not a good thing. If it is continued, it will kill off other equally deserving projects for a decade, wiping out not only their science potential but the technology and engineering creativity that would be exercised in building them. It almost certainly will steal money from other accounts that will eventually come looking for payback. It will provide data not much less than ten years from now. Ten years! In principle, other high quality science missions could be producing well before then. Perhaps most damaging is that it will be a standing reminder that good science should forgive bad management. So if JWST is continued, this is what will happen.

    If JWST is terminated, then one could at least rebuild the NASA astrophysics program. Perhaps the JWST money, which will have to include the effects of contract close out costs, will be rolled back over into the astrophysics account (from which it was recently removed). I suspect that will happen gradually, as the division creates a new strategic plan that doesn’t include JWST.

    Please understand that I’m not insisting that JWST be cancelled. I’m just saying that the reflexive “keep it at all costs!” argument can be shot full of holes, and that some very serious deliberation should happen before a decision about the fate of JWST is made.

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