JWST Talking Points (Revised)

Editor's note: The following are talking points developed by the JWST Science Working Group as of 8 March 2006. These talking points have a somewhat greater air of accuracy and official stature than the other set of talking points originally posted yesterday - points which are still being circulated within NASA and the space science community.


"James Webb Space Telescope 8 March 2006

JWST will be the premier space facility for astronomers in the coming decade. JWST is being designed as a versatile astronomy machine in the spirit of the Great Observatories, open to all astronomers through a peerreviewed General Observer (GO) Program. More than 85% of its observing time will be allotted to the GO programs. Based on our experience with HST and the other Great Observatories, the GO program will engage the best of the astronomical community and likely produce unexpected yet fundamental breakthroughs. The great science that JWST will do is made possible by the considerable capability and versatility planned for the observatory, its instrumentation, and the Great Observatory operating model.

JWST will be used to explore all fields of astronomy. JWST's four important and timely science themes span the breadth of astronomy and guide the development of observatory requirements: first light and reionization; assembly of galaxies; birth of stars and protoplanetary systems; and the study of planetary systems (including our own) and the origins of life.

Finishing JWST should be NASAs top space astronomy priority. The preeminent position of JWST, and the top priority that NASA should place on completing it, should be highlights in the Astronomy Communitys 2010 Decadal Survey. The international blue-ribbon committee (the "Science Assessment Team" or SAT) recently reaffirmed the scientific value of JWST, stating that since the formulation of the program in 1999, the case for the telescope and its unique capabilities has grown in strength and astronomical significance. With launch in 2013 and operations through 2018 and beyond, JWST will be the workhorse for the astronomy community in the next decade.

JWST technology development is on track. Strong emphasis is being placed on bringing critical systems to high technology readiness levels early in the program. Critical flight hardware is now complete. JWST's primary mirror has effectively been cast: the beryllium mirrors are all fabricated, as is the specialized production line to complete their figuring and polishing. The wavefront sensing approach has been successfully demonstrated on the Keck Telescope. All enabling technologies for the JWST mission are on track to meet test requirements for a NASA readiness assessment in January 2007.

JWST's current cost is appropriate for a 6.5-m space telescope. The year 2000 cost estimates for JWST (~$1B for an 8-m telescope) did not include technology development (around $230M), nor did they include work done at NASA centers (adds about ~20% to the cost under NASA's current accounting rules). Inflation to FY2006 dollars adds another 18%. JWST also incurred significant costs while the Ariane launch was debated in agencies external to NASA. With all these factors, JWST's cost estimate is now $3.5B from the first day through launch. For comparison, the Hubble Space Telescope is $4.1B in similar accounting (FY2006 dollars; full-cost accounting; no second-generation instruments, no servicing, no mission operations). JWST has gone through two replans, and has been judged independently to be as lean as possible while maintaining core capability in its science themes.

JWST is a cost-effective space telescope in terms of aperture. We have learned the lessons from HST and Spitzer. For example, using the metric of dollars per square meter of collecting area (all dollars FY2006, fullycosted) in units where HST is 1, Spitzer is 1.5 and JWST is just 0.2, even with JWST's innovative technologies (deployable beryllium mirrors, large deployable structures, and MEMS).

JWST is not driving current space science budget woes. The space science budget woes are a result of reprogramming from the science mission directorate to other parts of NASA. Dr. Griffin has been bluntly clear about that. He said in early 2006 in response to a question: "I wish we hadn't had to [take two billion dollars from space science to complete the ISS], I didn't want to, but that's what we needed to do" (http://www.spaceflightnow.com/news/n0602/06nasabudget/). The SMD line is being held effectively flat in the recent budget. A flat budget means decreased real spending power in the face of inflation, and drastically decreased spending power in the context of previous out-year planning exercises.

JWST is an international science project with broad US support. Scientists from dozens of national and international institutions are directly involved in the JWST development phase. JWST has major international participation for three of its four instruments, and launch will be on an Ariane 5. The JWST Project also has a wide-spread US industrial base with contractors in 24 states."


Editor's 7 Mar 2006 note: these "JWST Talking Points" are being circulated within the NASA JWST community:

1. Very large JWST budget over-run (~$1B) quoted in the community are overwhelmingly due to non-technical issues:

a. $520M for the delay in NASA's decision to use the Ariane launcher (Administrator Griffin conceded to the House Science Committee that "program delay because of uncertainty in the selection of a launch vehicle was a factor"); combined with delays due to insufficient budget to fund project at the proper pace for the original 2011 launch; plus additional schedule contingency required by NASA

b. $210M additional technical contingency required by NASA

c. $130M for additional costs for early buy down of science instrument risk

d. $160M due to a request to the prime aerospace contractor to quote "highest possible price to complete" for additional work

Although each of these components is certainly "real money," they do not reflect any underlying technical difficulties with the project, and thus suggest that there is no reason to suspect a continued further chain of financial surprises. Indeed, most of the increases are aimed at adding contingency and removing risk. Apparently Administrator Griffin agrees, as he told the January AAS that he views the JWST increases as correcting "underestimates" rather than "budget overruns."

2. JWST has learned the lessons from HST and Spitzer. For example, using the metric of dollars per square meter of collecting area (all dollars FY2006, fully costed), in units where HST is 1, Spitzer is 1.5, and JWST is 0.2, even with JWST's innovative technologies (deployable beryllium mirrors, large deployable structures, and MEMS). NASA undertook a rigorous review to reduce costs where possible and prioritize those scientific requirements that make JWST unique. The specially appointed international blue ribbon committee (the "Science Assessment Team") recently reaffirmed the scientific value of JWST stating "its unique capabilities have grown in strength and astronomical significance". Contrary to the original vision of a strong focus on the very high redshift Universe, recent observational developments have made the community realize that JWST will also be highly capable in the study and analysis of extra-solar planets and disk formation.

3. Many parts of JWST flight hardware are now complete, including all the beryllium mirror blanks and the production line to complete their figuring and polishing. The JWST wavefront sensing approach has been successfully demonstrated on the Keck Telescope. Thus technical hurdles have been consistently overcome, and conversely, many potential descopes (e.g., mirror area) are no longer practical cost savings.

4. Despite the desire of some in the community to point blame for space science financial stress at one or two particular science projects, the record is clear that NASA support for development of the new Crew Exploration Vehicle is almost entirely responsible. NASA agency budget growth in FY07 is 1% (removing Katrina repairs), but proposed growth in the CEV budget is 72%. The proposed budget removes $0.4B from science in FY07, and almost $2B of previously anticipated growth in science over the next 5 years.

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This page contains a single entry by Keith Cowing published on March 8, 2006 2:29 PM.

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