On July 6th The US House Appropriations Committee released the fiscal year 2012 Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations bill which includes NASA funding. Under the Science budget line item was the note “The bill terminates funding for the James Webb Space Telescope, which is billions of dollars over budget and plagued by poor management.” If the James Webb Space Telescope funding were to be terminated it would a great loss for the Canadian scientific community and the investment Canada has put into the project to date.
Canada did not contribute cash to the project but rather two critical instruments, the Fine Guidance Sensor (FGS) and Tuneable Filter Imager (TFI). These instruments have been developed under contract to the Canadian Space Agency by COM DEV Canada and included major sub-contracts to four other Canadian companies including IMP Aerospace Avionics, ABB Bomem, MDA, and INO.
When contacted today a spokesperson for the Canadian Space Agency said that Canada had spent $136.5 million to date of the expected $147.5 total expenditure for the project.
In return for Canada providing the instruments to the project, Canadian scientists are to receive a minimum of 5% of the time to do research with the telescope.
While the House Appropriations Committee has terminated funding for the project in their appropriations bill, their word is not the final one on this topic. The Senate which is more supportive of this project will more than likely try to revive the cut funding. And the White House is also expected to make a strong effort to save funding as well.
Unfortunately this is yet another NASA project that is significantly over budget and mismanaged according to an independent report released last fall. All of this comes at time when the US Congress is trying to make significant budget cuts. In the current atmosphere in Washington it is unclear whether the telescope funding can be saved. According to NASA if the funding was restored the telescope could be launched by 2018. However if funding is not restored then the telescope could languish for years with no launch in sight and it would need even more money.
For Canadian scientists expecting to use the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope these are indeed difficult times.
While the money spent by Canada on this project helped industry and enhanced Canada’s image as a technology leader, unfortunately the scientific benefits may not be there.