Is the development of NASA's James Webb Space Telescope back on track now that Congress has voted to fund it? Yes - sort of.
The telescope, which is tentatively scheduled to be%C2%A0launched into space%C2%A0in 2018, is designed to be the successor to the popular but aging Hubble Space Telescope. Getting it into orbit by 2018 is expected to cost more than $8 billion, or $1.5 billion more than what had been forecast by an independent panel in 2010.
Back in May, the House Appropriations Committee voted to cut all funding from the telescope's development program due to its escalating costs, which the committee noted was indicative of larger budgetary problems at NASA.
"Although JWST is a particularly serious example, significant cost overruns are commonplace at NASA, and the Committee believes that the underlying causes will never be fully addressed if the Congress does not establish clear consequences for failing to meet budget and schedule expectations," the panel wrote in its committee report.
The Senate Appropriations subcommittee in charge of NASA's budget, however, included more than $500 million in its plan for JWST, a plan that was later approved by the full committee.
In approving the conference report last week for the fiscal year 2012 funding for NASA and a host of other agencies, Congress approved $529.6 million for the telescope, but apparently not with great enthusiasm. In the conference report, conferees noted that to pay for the telescope now, they had to reduce, though not eliminate, planned funding increases for other parts of NASA. They also%C2%A0set things up to%C2%A0cut off funding for the program if total costs exceed $8 billion and will require the GAO%C2%A0to make sure that NASA is keeping an eye on the telescope's development costs.
Overall, Congress approved a NASA budget of $17.8 billion, which is a bit less than what the Senate alone wanted ($17.9 billion), but considerably more than what the House had sought (about $16.8 billion).
For a breakdown of the conference report funding levels and data showing what the Senate and House appropriations committees each approved, see the charts that accompanied this story as it appeared
originally. The biggest change from what was approved earlier in the year and the conference report is the percentage of funding going to NASA's science programs, which includes the JWST, from about 27 percent
to almost 38 percent.