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NASA's most expensive space telescope or bounce bill $ 8 billion budget emergency

via:澎湃新闻     time:2018/3/4 11:32:01     readed:899

James Webb Space Telescope.

Surging journalist Yu Han chess

James Webb Space Telescope is one of the most complex and expensive astronomical projects in NASA's history. Its mission is to succeed the extended Hubble Telescope, which focuses on infrared light waves and goes back hundreds of millions of years after the Big Bang. The dawn of the universe, the earliest generation of stars and galaxies, could revolutionize human cosmology.

Due to rising costs, the project was dismounted. After much solidarity, in 2011, the U.S. Congress issued a "one-off price" of 8.8 billion U.S. dollars: a ceiling of R & D costs of 8 billion U.S. dollars and an operating cost ceiling of 873 million U.S. dollars. The planned launch date was October 2018, leaving room for about 13 months.

Since then, the telescope was completed and shipped to the factory in November 2016, and everything went smoothly according to plan.

But the assembly and testing phase is the real test. Even in the dark at 240 degrees below zero environment, golden brown hexagonal lenses with 18 faces and 1.3 meters in diameter must maintain a one-ten-thousandth of the hair's precision but must be designed to be folded to fit into the launch rocket.

In September 2017, the telescope showed unexpected results in the vibration test at Goddard Space Flight Center. NASA announced that it will postpone the launch until March-June 2019.

But just a month after the announcement was postponed, the folding visor-size tennis court-sized folding visor on Weber's telescope was also unintended for the first time. It is expected to take another few months to deal with this problem. At this point, the time window of the telescope has less than one and a half months.

You know, until this step, the mirror has not been with the sun visor, aircraft body assembly. As a result, the U.S. government accountability office assessed in the latest report that the launch schedule of the telescope will again bounce. At the same time, a budget of Rmb8bn for research and development is in jeopardy.

It is yet to be seen how the U.S. Congress will react to this. But as many astronomers in the United States face this "black hole of funding" that has eaten NASA for more than 10 years, they will certainly have mixed feelings. On the one hand, other astronomical projects have been delayed for so long. On the other hand, they know very well that the testing phase is not going to happen. After all, this telescope is pinning the next decade of American astronomy, and NASA has long since lost its power.

Hubble waited 23 years for successor

Hubble, launched in 1990, is one of the most well-known telescopes in the history of astronomy, penetrating into unknown areas of the universe through numerous magnificent photographs. Since 2009, NASA had the last maintenance of Hubble, from resignation. In fact, Hubble's design life is only 5 years. In other words, as of today, Hubble has served for an extended period of 23 years.

In 1995, the design of a successor Space Telescope caused the interest of Daniel Godin, the then NASA executive director. The project was named after James Webb, the former executive director of NASA.

The design of the next generation of the main space telescope main mirror 6.5 meters, about 3 times the Hubble telescope, collecting power is 7 times the Hubble telescope, but Weber relative to Hubble biggest change is that with a strong infrared detection capability , While Hubble focused on the visible band.

As the cosmos is constantly expanding, those early stars and galaxies are moving fast away from us, producing a redshift effect: the light they emit shifts to the longer-wavelength infrared band.

Because of this, Weber telescopes can receive the infrared light emitted by these early galaxies and trace back the early days of stars, quasars and galaxies and witness the universe's bid to say goodbye to the "dark ages" and into the "bright era." In the latest issue of Nature, scientists heard the earliest stellar signals from radio waves - 180 million years after the Big Bang. At present, human beings still know very little about the details of the process and can only depict the appearance of early stars with their imagination.

But I did not expect, Hubble this is more than 20 years.

"A price" 8.8 billion

NASA's first budget for the James Webb telescope was $1.6 billion, and in 2011, with the advent of this "once in a lifetime" scientific opportunity, more and more people asked for a ride.

Scientists from all countries and agencies have joined in to continuously increase the complexity of the Weber telescope. These new functional designs involve many expensive and not yet fully-matured cutting-edge technologies. We do not see the need for restraint: NASA's astronomical and physical funding was still increasing year by year.

NASA responded by finding more partners, including the European Space Agency and the Canadian space agency, to share its funding.

This cumbersome design and management model has caused outside criticism. In FY11, NASA reported to the National Assembly that the telescope funding has soared to more than $ 8 billion. The House was vetoed.

Astronomers panicked. From public opinion to government petitions, a movement to save the James Webb telescope spread. "big countries are going to do big things." that's what Weber's supporters believe.

In FY12, Congress resumed funding for the project to issue a $ 8.8 billion U.S. dollar under the prerequisite that the management mode must be reformed.

Highly anticipated

Next, the James Webb telescope will be shipped to Los Angeles, fitted with that giant sunscreen, and shipped in its entirety through the Panama Canal to French Guiana, where it was launched.

The telescope will eventually observe the vast universe silently at 1.5 million kilometers outside the Earth, the second Lagrange point. At this distance, NASA can not prepare any maintenance plan.

One of the mirror shapes of the Hubble Space Telescope has been slightly deformed, causing the telescope to lose focus. NASA eventually corrected the problem with corrective lenses. NASA will not tolerate such a mistake now on the Webb telescope.

In addition to carefully testing and assembling project personnel, American astronomers are also looking forward to their expectations. Only James Webb telescope successfully launched the first photo smoothly, and the astronomical project that they have been pressed for many years can be formally put on the agenda.

Originally the highlight of the American Astronomy 2011-2020 Decade Plan, the WFIRST aims to detect the dark matter of the universe and the timetable is squeezed beyond 2025.

And for other projects, whatever the final progress of the James Webb telescope, the time window has been missed forever. For example, NASA's space gravitational wave exploration project was aborted because of funding problems. To participate in the ESA-led LISA project.

Is it worthwhile to wait and sacrifice for more than 20 years? Perhaps when the James Webb telescope finally overlooks the dawn of the universe 1.5 million kilometers away, there is no need for an answer.

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