The cost of Webb is split between the international partners in the observatory — NASA, ESA and CSA, with telescope being built by NASA, and ESA and CSA providing instrumentation. ESA also contributed the launch of Webb on an Ariane 5 rocket. The cost to build, test, launch and commission the observatory, as well as five years of science operations, is approximately $10 billion USD. Webb is not necessarily limited to 5 years of operations, and the observatory will contain enough fuel to potentially operate for around 20 years. The time spent building Webb is estimated to be 40 million hours in total, spread between thousands of engineers, scientists, and technicians.
Webb is the largest and most powerful space science telescope ever built, and is addressing scientific challenges that cannot be achieved by any other means. Fundamental astronomy questions drove Webb’s unique design, cutting-edge capabilities, and unparalleled infrared sensitivity – all geared to provide a new view of the universe and capture our imagination with extraordinary science discoveries. It’s a giant leap forward in our quest to understand humanity’s place in the universe.
$10 billion is a large cost for a single observatory, but this money was invested over decades and has led to new and innovative space technologies that will improve future spacecraft and spur on new technological advances down on Earth. For example, technology developed for Webb now assists surgeons performing laser eye surgery. Engineers developed a technique for precisely and rapidly measuring the mirrors to guide their grinding and polishing, and this technology has since been adapted to creating high-definition maps of patients’ eyes for improved surgical precision.
The cost of Webb also included a painstaking seven-year integration and testing plan to incrementally validate the flight hardware, starting with individual components before testing larger assemblies and finally the fully assembled spacecraft. All flight-deployable items on Webb were tested multiple times on the ground using specially designed equipment which mimics the weightlessness that Webb will experience in space.
The testing process for Webb was so meticulous and thorough partially due to the innovative design of the telescope. Flying new technologies in space entails risks, and mitigating these risks means that progress is sometimes slower and more costly than expected. Unlike Hubble, Webb cannot be visited by astronauts on a servicing mission — it has to work right the first time (and so far it has!).
ESA’s contributions to Webb are aligned with ESA's purpose to provide for and to promote, for exclusively peaceful purposes, cooperation among European States in space research and technology.