NASA plans to wait until 2015 to lay out a proposal for its next big astrophysics mission, a senior agency official said July 30.
(An engineer inspects the JWST’s primary mirror segments at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.Credit: Chris Gunn/NASA)
“Anew flagship missionstands almost no chance of being funded until after work is finished on the budget-busting James Webb Space Telescope, which is scheduled to launch in 2018, said Paul Hertz, director of NASA’s Astrophysics Division. But the planning can begin before JWST begins its five-year mission to study the origins of the universe.”
”’Unless a miracle occurs, our next opportunity to start a new strategic mission will be after [JWST] launches,’ Hertz told members of the NASA Advisory Committee’s astrophysics subcommittee. ‘In 2017 we hope to start [work on] a new mission. We will put that plan in front of the community [in 2015] through the mid-decade review to find out whether they think we did a good job in following the decadal survey.’”
“Hertz said he will share more details about the options being considered for the 2015 mission proposal in a draft white paper to be released to the astrophysics community ahead of the American Astronomical Society’s Jan. 6, 2013, winter meeting in Long Beach, Calif.”
“Decadal Survey” is something one hears often in the circles of professional astronomy. It’s essentially a road map of science goals and spending priorities the astronomy community draws up every ten years by some complicated process of ‘consensus’, intended to tell the U.S. federal government what it wants and how much it will cost. It’s sort of a recognition that we can’t have everything we want all of the time —obviously — so here’s the science we think is most important and how much it will cost. The survey process solicits inputs from astronomers across all branches of the field and through some bureaucratic black magic is distilled down into a thorough (but concise) report to the feds that helps guide policy decisions until the next survey a decade hence.
So, what might this major, new “flagship astronomy mission” consist of? The suggestions from the survey are (courtesy of the Wikipedia):
These are the two leading, recommended space missions contending for the post-JWST era… at least as of 2010, when the last Decadal Survey was released. The smart money is on exoplanets these days, after other proposed missions like Terrestrial Planet Finder (TPF) and Space Interferometry Mission (SIM) were canceled in the 2000’s. The resounding success of the Kepler mission in discovering new exoplanets has really raised the profile of these alien worlds in the scientific community, and the likelihood of finding an Earthlike, “holy grail” planet has significantly increased.
JWST, a large, infrared-optimized, space-based telescope will contribute to exoplanet studies, but it’s a general-purpose facility. And its mission could last 20+ years, like Hubble. Will the new “flagship” mission be a resurrected TPF/SIM, will it be WFIRST, or something we don’t even know about yet? We’ll find out soon, at the next winter meeting of the American Astronomical Society. -JCB
Europe shipped one of its big contributions to the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) on Tuesday.
(Checked baggage: Miri went out on a standard passenger flight. Credit: BBC/Nick Morrish/British Airways)
“TheMid Infra-Red Instrument (Miri)was flown out of London Heathrow on a British Airways jet, bound for Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Center. JWST will be the successor to Hubble, and aims to track down the very first stars to shine in the Universe. Miri has been built by a pan-European consortium led from the UK and Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). It will play a central role in the quest to identify that ‘first light’.”
“The 120m-euro (£95m; $150m) instrument, tucked inside its protective box, was loaded on to BA flight 217 for Washington Dulles International Airport. The reportedly smooth ride across the Atlantic took about 7.5 hours. On landing, Miri was set to be driven the relatively short distance around the US capital’s ‘Beltway’ to Goddard for an unpacking on Wednesday. NASA engineers will then integrate Miri into the telescope structure prior to further testing.”
“The main container carried the flags of all the European nations that have worked on the instrument and the signatures of its principal scientist, Prof Gillian Wright, and its project manager, John Thatcher from the Astrium space company. A message read simply, ‘First and best’.”
(Europe has a heavy involvement in the development JWST, whose entire future remains somewhat in doubt at this point. If/when it flies, Europe’s contribution will be an integral part of its success. -JCB)
Astronomy news, recent research results, and pretty pictures from the media along with context, commentary, and explanations for folks who dig this sort of thing. Written by a quasi-professional astronomer affiliated with the University of Texas at Austin.