NASA has concluded that it will cost approximately $8.7 billion to finish construction of the James Webb Space Telescope in time for a 2018 launch.
Often described as the successor to the stalwart Hubble, the next-gen telescope is slated to operate at the Earth-Sun L2 Lagrange point for approximately five years.
Upon its completion, James Webb is expected to boast a 6.5-meter mirror - comprising 18 individually pointed segments - that will examine planets, dust clouds, and ancient galaxies in the near-to mid-infrared.
However, it remains unclear if the telescope will actually make its way into space, as the House Appropriations Committee recently drafted a 2012 budget that would effectively terminate funding for the observatory.
Indeed, a number of politicians want to axe the program, as costs have ballooned well beyond the original financial projections of $3.5bn - $5bn.
But Phil Plait, who worked on the Hubble Space Telescope, says he believes Congress should fully fund NASA instead of starving it of much needed assets.
"JWST is a truly incredible mission. It will see farther than any telescope of its kind before. It will look at planets orbiting other stars, stars forming in nearby galaxies, and the light emitted from objects at the most distant realms of the Universe," Plait opined in Discover Magazine.
"We can't know just what JWST will see, and how it will further our knowledge. We simply know that it will, and that the images it takes will set the curiosity and minds of people afire. There are many worthy things the government can spend money on, of course. But I think that an investment in the future of science, and in stoking the public's imagination about the Universe, is well worth it."