Keith's 19 May note: Industry sources report that Northrop Grumman will begin to layoff personnel working on the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) next month for budgetary and scheduling reasons. JWST was originally supposed to have been launched in 2007. This launch date has officially slipped to no earlier than 2017-2018. According to sources, NASA Associate Administrator Chris Scolese told a group of aerospace executives this week that running JWST at a rate of $375 million a year would result in a launch date of 2022-2024.
The cost of JWST has grown from an initial $1 billion estimate to $2 billion - then to $4 billion - and is now estimated to be $7 billion. In other words the cost increase sucks $6 billion out of NASA's budget - money that would have otherwise gone to other space science projects.
If this continues, universities are going to see funds for non-JWST projects dry up. Contractors who might have had a chance to bid on other projects will now be forced to change their line of business to pursue other types of projects. The result of all of this will be loss of expertise in the work force in academia, the private sector - and at NASA.
NASA PAO has responded to NASA Watch stating: "The statement attributed to Chris Scolese is inaccurate. NASA is currently working with contractors and international partners to assess the budget and schedule and develop a sustainable path forward for the JWST program that is based on a realistic cost and schedule assessment. NASA is completing the assessments and developing a new baseline. NASA will complete its new baseline cost and schedule assessment for JWST in the summer of 2011. This information will be used in formulation of the FY 2013 budget request. A decision on JWST's launch date is contingent upon the outcome of these activities."
Keith's 19 May 4:30 pm update: Note that NASA does not dispute the fact that Scolese mentioned that the annual $375 million spending rate would result in a slip to 2022-2024 - rather, that they are studying things ... stay tuned.
Keith's 19 May 7:15 pm update: According to Northrop Grumman's spokesman Lon Rains "We are not planning a Webb layoff in June".
NASA Watch stands by its sources.
Keith's 31 May note: According to a WARN Act filing, Northrop Grumman has notified the State of California that as many as 870 jobs could be eliminated in the next few months. This does not mean that all 870 jobs will be eliminated however. Some are in divisions that would have no possible involvement with JWST. Others might have JWST connections. When I asked Northrop Grumman's spokesman Lon Rains to characterize these layoffs, asking if there could be some JWST employees in the mix, he said "possibly". He then went on to say that these layoffs were being made across the company and that they had to do with internal corporate reorganization - and that no JWST jobs were being lost due to any direction from NASA. NASA Watch sources report that employees working on JWST at Northrop Grumman are indeed being laid off - however the total number is not known.