NASA's big space telescope avoids death-by-budget-cut

NASA’s $6.8 billion James Webb telescope could launch by 2018

Webb mirrors
NASA's most ambitious and highly over-budget space projects, the James Webb Space Telescope has apparently been spared the budgetary axe.

The US Senate Committee on Appropriations has approved about $530 million of NASA's $17.9 billion budget to "enable a 2018 launch of the James Webb Space Telescope."

More on telescopes: Amazing telescopes produce hot space images

The $6.5 billion Webb telescope is the successor to the highly successful Hubble space telescope.  According to NASA the Webb telescope would be the most sensitive infrared space telescope ever built.

It is designed to see the farthest galaxies in the universe and the light of the first stars; study young planetary systems; and look for conditions suitable for life on planets around other stars.  The telescope features a large mirror, a little over 21-feet in diameter and a sunshield the size of a tennis court. The system would reside in an orbit about 1 million miles from the Earth.

The project has been plagued by design issues and funding problems and its future isn't guaranteed.

In July when the House Appropriations Committee suggested killing the over-budget telescope a number of organization protested the decision.

For example, from American Astronomical Society: "The proposed cancellation of JWST is a bad idea," says AAS Executive Officer Dr. Kevin B. Marvel. "Several billion dollars have already been spent developing new cutting-edge technology, and the last thing the American people want is for Congress to throw good money away. The US will rightly be proud of the accomplishments of JWST, but first we need to finish it and launch it."

For its part NASA has continued to move the telescope toward completion, this week saying mirrors for the James Webb Space have been polished so the observatory can see objects as far away as the first galaxies in the universe. The mirrors are made of beryllium and will work together to relay images of the sky to the telescope's science cameras.

After polishing, the mirrors are being coated with a microscopically thin layer of gold to enable them to efficiently reflect infrared light. NASA has completed coating 13 of 18 primary mirror segments and will complete the rest by early next year.

Follow Michael Cooney on Twitter: nwwlayer8  

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