The future of JWST had been in jeopardy ever since major cost over runs were identified in 2011. Since then NASA has re-evaluated JWST project and made significant changes in the management and organisation of the project. Accordingly, the launch date was moved from 2014 to 2018, and the development cost increased from $2.581 to $6.198 billion with a total spend now capped at $8 billion.
That ExoMars should take such a blow is something of a surprise. Although various news outlets had leaked the possibility some days ago, they was no previous indication that the program was at risk. In announcing the budget, President Obama outlined a 21% cut in planetary science and the majority of that cut will be found through the ExoMars programme.
How these cuts will ultimately affect the joint venture with ESA is unclear. What is clear, however, is that the key mission ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter will not be a joint venture going forward. Whether ESA, with its own budgetary constraints at this time, can find new partners, or continue alone remains to be seen.
While many will celebrate the saving of JWST, a mission that will be a more than worthy successor to Hubble, it is a shame that other activities are delayed, and perhaps postponed for many years, because of the initial difficulties in the JWST project. Had JWST been managed with greater efficiency from the outset, ExoMars might still be on offer today.