NASA`s Webb telescope hit by cost overruns

A flagship US space observatory designed as a successor to Hubble Telescope needs another $1.5 bn.

Cape Carnival, Florida: A flagship US space observatory designed as a powerful successor to the Hubble Space Telescope needs another $1.5 billion to make a launch date in 2015, an oversight panel reported on Wednesday.

About $250 million would need to be added to the James Webb Space Telescope project in NASA`s current budget, which agency Associate Administrator Chris Scolese said was unlikely.

"I doubt that we`re going to find $250 million," Scolese said on a conference call with reporters.

In a best-case scenario, the review panel pegged the telescope`s overall cost at $6.5 billion, up from a $5 billion estimate two years ago. That cost will grow even more if the launch date slips beyond September 2015.

The report, ordered by Senator Barbara Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat, determined that NASA`s cost estimates to develop the technologies and build the observatory were faulty from the beginning.

Scolese said the U.S. space agency had brought in new management to oversee the telescope`s development and clamp down on costs.

"We aren`t in the business of cost overruns. We`re not pleased we had a cost overrun. This is something we have to fix," Scolese said.

The review panel determined the telescope, a potential boon for astronomy, was in good shape technically.

"We`ve all seen the stunning results that have come out from Hubble," said astronomer and review panel member Garth Illingworth, with the University of California Observatories.

"The James Webb (telescope) is a hugely more powerful facility than Hubble, 100 times more at least. The science just underpins so much of what we`re looking to do in the future," he said.

Hubble, carried into orbit outside the distortion of Earth`s atmosphere by a space shuttle in 1990, has been a vital research tool and led to breakthroughs in astrophysics including imaging the first galaxies.

In a statement, NASA administrator Charles Bolden said, "I am disappointed we have not maintained the level of cost control we strive to achieve -- something the American taxpayer deserves in all of our projects."

Bureau Report