NASA pauses work on James Webb space telescope due to coronavirus

NASA has suspended work on the James Webb Space Telescope until further notice due to concerns about the coronavirus. The telescope is scheduled to go into space in March next year.

The NASA team working on the James Webb telescope is in California and has stopped testing and integration work, the space agency writes. Decisions on this may be subject to change, depending on how the coronavirus situation develops this week. According to NASA, this decision was made for the safety of personnel. The telescope remains ‘safe in the cleanroom environment’.

This decision on work for the James Webb Space Telescope is the result of a broad evaluation of NASA projects. In the context of the concerns about the coronavirus, it was examined which tasks employees can do from home, which projects are essential to continue work from regular workplaces, and which projects can be paused.

Work on this year’s Mars mission, featuring the Perseverance Rover and the Mars Helicopter, remains a high priority for NASA and will continue. This also applies to the Commercial Crew Program, the program with which NASA will eventually no longer depend on Russia to reach the ISS with astronauts. SpaceX, part of this program in addition to Boeing, recently indicated that it wants to perform a manned Crew Dragon flight in the second half of May at the earliest.

What the suspension of the James Webb team’s work will mean for the telescope’s launch schedule is unknown. The launch of the telescope is still scheduled for the end of March 2021. The telescope should have gone into space earlier; the project suffers from high costs and delays. The United States Government Accountability Office wrote in January that there is an estimated only 12 percent chance that that date will actually be met; this estimate did not yet include the current steps to contain the spread of the coronavirus.