Correcting a recent statement concerning the cost of JWST
Alan Stern stated recently that: "JWST's cost is increasing ANOTHER $100M since last month--for an annualized rate of >$1B. Who says the costs & damage are known?"
It is incorrect to annualize this $0.1B change. I would have expected the writer to know better. He was NASA Associate Administrator for Science for 11 months in 2007 and 2008 until his (precipitous) departure early in 2008. Being Principal Investigator of a major planetary mission that also overran should have helped him understand such issues. But since he appears not to understand, nor to have done his homework, here are the facts:
The cost-to-launch in 2018 for JWST is unchanged at $8B, and consistent with the Senate-imposed cost cap of $8B. The $0.1B increase (or just ~1%) in total life-cycle cost from the "about $8.7B" reported in August 2011 to $8.8B is the outcome of a recent effort to properly define the operations and science support budget after launch in late 2018.
For background: Getting a new cost-to-launch for JWST from NASA after the Independent Comprehensive Review Panel report in late 2010 was clearly the most important step needed for Congress, OMB, OSTP, and others. Establishing the schedule and cost-to-launch for JWST was thus, very appropriately, given priority this year by NASA. What was not able to be updated in the work done in the first half of this year on the new JWST plan, and the resulting revised cost-to-launch, was the operations budget for the new launch date.
The current (and correct) approach for missions is to report a total life-cycle cost that includes operations. To meet this objective the life-cycle cost of "about $8.7B" approved for release by OMB in August included an old, incomplete estimate of the cost of operations and science support. This old operations estimate was from the 2008 JWST Confirmation review, inflated for the current later launch date. The old operations and science support estimate needed to be updated, but it was not appropriate to wait any longer before responding to the repeated Congressional and public requests for the revised cost of JWST. Unfortunately, the life-cycle cost information was not allowed to be accompanied by any public explanation of the components of the "about $8.7B" number.
The more rigorous update of the cost of the operations and science support budget was concluded recently. This was based on the new launch date and on improved understanding since 2008 of the JWST Observatory system and its characteristics. The more rigorous estimate of the operations and science support budget resulted in an ~1% increase in the life-cycle cost. An increase was expected, and was implicitly noted in the life-cycle cost released in August by saying "about $8.7B".
The resulting $0.1B increase from the more rigorous assessment of the operations and science support cost is for the whole operations period and is ONLY for the cost of operations in 2019 and beyond, and it is clearly NOT appropriate to annualize it.
The Planetary Science Division Director, Jim Green, at NASA recently emphasized that planetary scientists should stop sniping at JWST and focus on the Planetary Decadal program and the nearly $1B that planetary lost in the President's budget over the next 5 years, since JWST did not have anything to do with that loss. The writer appears not to have got this message and, unfortunately, instead is still resorting to disingenuous statements that will damage the overall science program at NASA.
Garth Illingworth University of California, Santa Cruz
The writer was a member of the JWST Independent Comprehensive Review Panel and was Chair from 2005 to 2008 of the Astronomy and Astrophysics Advisory Committee that reports to Congress, OSTP, NASA, NSF and DOE.