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NASA Space Telescope Center of $1.5 Billion Fiasco
11 November 2010 12:13 pm
The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) project seems to be in even more financial trouble than we reported yesterday on ScienceInsider. An independent review of the project, led by John Casani of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, has found that the telescope would end up being at least $1.5 billion over budget. That puts the total estimated cost of the project at $6.5 billion.
In a media teleconference yesterday, Casani summarized the findings of the review, which was ordered by Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), chair of a panel that oversees NASA's budget. Casani's team found that even in the most optimistic scenario, NASA would not be able to launch the telescope before September 2015—a year behind schedule. In order to make that deadline, NASA would need an additional $200 million for the project every year for the next 2 fiscal years. If NASA were to get this additional funding, which does not look likely at least for FY2011, it would still end up with a total cost overrun of $1.5 billion by the time the telescope is ready for launch. If this money does not come through, the launch will be delayed further—possibly by another 2 years, leading to a greater escalation of cost.
Casani minced no words about who was to blame.
"The fundamental root cause is that at the time of confirmation of the project [in 2008], the budget that NASA was presented with was basically flawed," he said. It "understated the requirements of the project." Not only did the project office provide a bad estimate, officials at NASA headquarters failed to identify the errors in the budgeting, Casani said.
At the time the project was confirmed, "we didn't have the people" to do the analysis that was needed, Chris Scolece, NASA's associate administrator said on the teleconference. "We're not pleased that we have a cost overrun," he said.
He announced that the project's administration had been restructured in light of the report's findings. A new program office has been set up to coordinate the project. It will report directly to the office of the NASA administrator.
Scolece would not comment on the prospects of finding an additional $200 million for the project in the next 2 fiscal years. He also would not say how the increased costs might impact other science programs at NASA. "Our goal right now is to go off and implement the recommendations that came out of the report," he said.