This is not a NASA Website. You might learn something. It's YOUR space agency. Get involved. Take it back. Make it work - for YOU.

Yet Another Webb Problem Review Panel

By Keith Cowing
NASA Watch
April 9, 2018
Filed under , ,
Yet Another Webb Problem Review Panel

NASA Announces Independent Review Board Members for James Webb Space Telescope
“The Independent Review Board review process will take approximately eight weeks. Once the review concludes, the board members will deliver a presentation and final report to NASA outlining their findings and recommendations, which are expected to complement recent data input from Webb’s Standing Review Board. NASA will review those findings and then provide its assessment in a report to Congress at the end of June. Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems, the project’s observatory contractor, will proceed with the remaining integration and testing phase prior to launch.”
Management Shake Up on Webb Space Telescope, earlier post
“NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD) is taking essential steps to refocus efforts to ensure a successful mission for the agency’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) after an independent assessment of remaining tasks revealed more time is needed for testing and integration to meet a new launch window of approximately May 2020.”
Management Changes at Webb Announced (2010)
“For the past 8 years, the JWST team has been led by Phil Sabelhaus, and in my view, no one could have been more effective leading this government, industry, and international team, especially in light of the enormous challenges and constraints.”
James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) Independent Comprehensive Review Panel (ICRP) Final Report (2010)
“The problems causing cost growth and schedule delays on the JWST Project are associated with budgeting and program management, not technical performance. The technical performance on the Project has been commendable and often excellent. However, the budget baseline accepted at the Confirmation Review did not reflect the most probable cost with adequate reserves in each year of project execution. This resulted in a project that was simply not executable within the budgeted resources.”
NASA Announces Contract for Next-Generation Space Telescope Named after Space Pioneer (2002)
“The James Webb Space Telescope is scheduled for launch in 2010 aboard an expendable launch vehicle.”

NASA Watch founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.

4 responses to “Yet Another Webb Problem Review Panel”

  1. fcrary says:

    If JWST is going to exceed the cost cap, they will have to explain it to Congress. A finding from an independent review board, saying that just a little more money will do, is definitely something they would want to show Congress. I happen to have seen one of the people listed on other review panels. I don’t know which way it goes, but he’s not one to let people off easy. But having him involved means a rigorous review, and that makes it a credible one.

  2. Michael Spencer says:

    Eight weeks to ‘review’ eight years’ work. You have to wonder what’s left on the cutting room floor.

    And you have to wonder how much staff time is required after an email goes out to -how many, no idea – dozens/hundreds of people or offices: “Send me your stuff”.

    So I guess the question that an outside observer would ask is simple: “Really? Nobody knows how this thing got tangled up? All of the smart managers and engineers and everyone else – nobody has a credible response?”

    Of course they do. Dozens of people know what went wrong. Sounds more like an effort to tar and feather somebody for the benefit of congress.

    • fcrary says:

      It’s most likely the other way around. To avoid anyone being tarred and feathered by congress, they need this sort of work to independently show no one person was really to blame. (In a better managed organization, the buck would stop somewhere, but that’s another debate.)

      And yes, it does mean at most one or two dozen staffers (judging by the size of the review panel) will be asking people on the project for copies of all sorts of past reviews. Ideally, all of the review panel members would read all of that themselves, but I wouldn’t bet on it. At least one will at least skim almost all of it, and give parts a through reading. And the people on the project will spend time digging up the material, sending it in, and answering the odd question. And that’s billable time, so it adds to any future cost overruns. This is a great example of how greater management oversight, while intended to solve a problem, doesn’t necessarily make things better.

      • Daniel Woodard says:

        Good points. But was the only real mistake lowballing the budget, which resulted in expensive reviews to “explain” the overrun with nothing being done to prevent it in the future? Or were there technical decisions that are not optimal? If the program managers are left with the rule that the budget has to be underestimated to get the project approved, but can then be allowed to increase by a factor of 4 or 5 as long as there are enough “reviews” to investigate the ‘cost growth”, then it is certain to happen again.

        My personal view is that I hope it works, but with only a single extremely complex spacecraft in an inaccessible orbit, the risk of an unanticipated failure anywhere from launch to on orbit operations is excessive.