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posted by Fnord666 on Thursday March 05 2020, @09:36PM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the government-spending-logic dept.

WFIRST, proposed for cancellation, is approved for development

NASA has approved a major astrophysics mission to go into the next phase of its development even as the administration seeks once again to cancel it.

NASA announced March 2 that the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) has passed a review known as Key Decision Point C, which confirms development plans for the mission and allows it to move into full-scale hardware production and testing.

That milestone is when the agency also sets a baseline cost and schedule commitment for the mission. NASA said in its statement about the review that the mission would cost $3.2 billion through its launch, a cost cap previously set by NASA. The cost when including five years of science operations, as well as a coronagraph instrument deemed a technology demonstration by NASA, increases to $3.934 billion.

However, NASA did not announce a launch date for the mission because its fiscal year 2021 budget request proposes to cancel WFIRST. "The Administration is not ready to proceed with another multi-billion-dollar telescope until Webb has been successfully launched and deployed," NASA said in its statement, a reference to the James Webb Space Telescope scheduled for launch in March 2021. NASA used the same statement in its 2021 budget request to explain why it sought no funding for the mission.

Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST).

Previously:
WFIRST Space Observatory Could be Scaled Back Due to Costs
Trump Administration Budget Proposal Would Cancel WFIRST
NASA Gets Money it Didn't Ask for to Fund Second SLS Mobile Launcher; WFIRST Mission Receives Funds
Launch of James Webb Space Telescope Delayed Again, This Time to March 2021, Cost at $9.66 Billion
NASA Administrator at House Hearing: WFIRST Could be Delayed to Help Pay for JWST


Original Submission

Related Stories

WFIRST Space Observatory Could be Scaled Back Due to Costs 9 comments

The Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) may have some of its capabilities scaled back due to overspending on the James Webb Space Telescope and the added cost of a coronagraph that was demanded by exoplanet researchers:

NASA will have to scale back its next big orbiting observatory to avoid busting its budget and affecting other missions, an independent panel says. The Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) is due for launch in the mid-2020s. But 1 year after NASA gave the greenlight its projected cost is $3.6 billion, roughly 12% overbudget. "I believe reductions in scope and complexity are needed," Thomas Zurbuchen, head of NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington, D.C., wrote in a memo that NASA released last Thursday.

Designed to investigate the nature of dark energy and study exoplanets, WFIRST was chosen by the astronomy community as its top space-based mission priority in the 2010 decadal survey entitled New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics. But the start of the project was initially delayed by the huge overspend on its predecessor, the James Webb Space Telescope, which will be launched in 2019. Then last year, a midterm review of the 2010 decadal survey warned that WFIRST could go the same way and advised NASA to form a panel of independent experts to review the project.

[...] Zurbuchen's memo to Scolese directs the lab to retain the basic elements of the mission—the 2.4-meter mirror, widefield camera, and coronagraph—but to seek cost-saving "reductions." Hertz says this will require reducing the capabilities of instruments but ensuring they remain "above the science floor laid down by the decadal survey." The coronagraph will be recategorized as a "technology demonstration instrument," removing the burden of achieving a scientific target. The change will also save money, Hertz explains. Hertz says exoplanet researchers shouldn't worry about the proposed changes. "We know we'll get good science out of the coronagraph. We'll be able to see debris disks, zodiacal dust, and exoplanets in wide orbits," he says. Astronomers wanting to see Earth twins in the habitable zone may be disappointed, however.


Original Submission

Trump Administration Budget Proposal Would Cancel WFIRST 16 comments

A Trump administration budget proposal would cancel NASA's flagship-class Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) as well as several Earth science related telescopes, as it focuses on the Space Launch System, Orion, and sending astronauts to an orbital space station around the Moon:

The Trump administration has released its budget proposal for fiscal year 2019 and put dozens of federal programs on the chopping block, including a brand-new NASA space telescope that scientists say would provide the biggest picture of the universe yet, with the same sparkling clarity as the Hubble Space Telescope. The proposal, released Monday, recommends eliminating the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), citing "higher priorities" at NASA and the cost of the new telescope.

"Given competing priorities at NASA, and budget constraints, developing another large space telescope immediately after completing the $8.8 billion James Webb Space Telescope is not a priority for the administration," the proposal states. "The budget proposes to terminate WFIRST and redirect existing funds to other priorities of the science community, including completed astrophysics missions and research."

Although the Trump administration wants to end funding of the International Space Station (ISS) by 2025, it envisions private companies picking up the slack:

"The decision to end direct federal support for the ISS in 2025 does not imply that the platform itself will be deorbited at that time — it is possible that industry could continue to operate certain elements or capabilities of the ISS as part of a future commercial platform," according to a draft summary of NASA's ISS Transition Report required by Congress in the agency's 2017 Authorization Act.

NASA Gets Money it Didn't Ask for to Fund Second SLS Mobile Launcher; WFIRST Mission Receives Funds 17 comments

Congress has given NASA $350 million for a second mobile launcher for the Space Launch System:

The problem stems from the fact that NASA's current mobile launch platform wasn't actually built for the SLS. NASA has been modifying a platform that was originally built for a rocket that never saw the light of day — the Ares 1, a vehicle that was meant to send humans back to the Moon as part of the now-canceled Constellation program. When the Constellation program was replaced with the SLS program in 2011, NASA decided to simply upgrade the mobile launch platform the agency had already built for Ares 1 to support the Space Launch System. The SLS is a much bigger and heavier vehicle than the Ares 1 was going to be, so NASA has had to reinforce the base of the platform, as well as expand it to accommodate the larger size of the rocket and its engines.

[...] Now, Congress is telling NASA to build a second platform, likely due to safety concerns. Building the new platform could potentially move the second flight of SLS up to 2022 instead of 2023. Otherwise, having such a huge gap between the first and second flight of the rocket could cause engineers to forget the valuable experience they gained from flying the rocket the first time. "When that happens, you have all the people — in your ground systems and in mission control — you have them sitting around for months at a time with nothing to do," Casey Dreier, director of space policy at the Planetary Society, tells The Verge. "And in the absence of real rocket launches, you might lose good people."

But another unofficial motivation could be optics. Further delays would be a bad look for the perennially delayed SLS program. The first flight of the SLS has been consistently pushed back — from 2018, to 2019, and then to 2020. And even when the first two flights of the vehicle are done, the rocket will probably only launch once a year.

Contrary to a Trump administration NASA budget proposal, the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) has received additional funding:

Lawmakers provided $150 million for the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope, or WFIRST, which the Trump administration proposed canceling last month. Set for launch in the mid-2020s, WFIRST would be next in NASA's line of big observatories in space after Hubble and the James Webb Space Telescope. It was the top priority for NASA's astrophysics program in a National Academy of Sciences decadal survey released in 2010. The agency's policy is to follow cues from the science community encapsulated in the decadal survey reports.

Agency managers last year were wary that WFIRST could exceed its $3.2 billion cost cap, and Thomas Zurbuchen, head of NASA's science directorate, in October ordered a team at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland — home of the WFIRST project office — to study how the mission could be modified to fit under the budget limit.

Officials drafting NASA's budget request for fiscal 2019 decided WFIRST was too expensive, but the mission has enjoyed strong support from Congress. In an apparent reference to WFIRST's proposed termination, lawmakers wrote that they "reject the cancellation of scientific priorities recommended by the National Academy of Sciences decadal survey process."

Previously: Trump Administration Budget Proposal Would Cancel WFIRST
Leaning Tower of NASA


Original Submission

Launch of James Webb Space Telescope Delayed Again, This Time to March 2021, Cost at $9.66 Billion 17 comments

Remember the JWST? Yup:

NASA has again delayed the launch of its next-generation space observatory, known as the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), the space agency announced today. The telescope now has a new launch date of March 30th, 2021. It's the second delay to the project's timeline this year, and the third in the last nine months.

"We're all disappointed that the culmination of Webb and its launch is taking longer than expected, but we're creating something new here. We're dealing with cutting edge technology to perform an unprecedented mission, and I know that our teams are working hard and will successfully overcome the challenges," NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a video statement. "In space we always have to look at the long term, and sometimes the complexities of our missions don't come together as soon as we wish. But we learn, we move ahead, and ultimately we succeed."

NASA pushed the launch of JWST, which is viewed as a more powerful successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, from 2019 to 2020 in March of this year. At the same time the space agency also convened an independent review board to assess the future of the project, which is running the risk of blowing by an $8 billion cost cap set by NASA in 2011. Going beyond that cost cap would mean that Congress has to reauthorize the program.

NASA Administrator at House Hearing: WFIRST Could be Delayed to Help Pay for JWST 13 comments

At a two-part hearing discussing the future of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine proposed reducing the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope's (WFIRST) budget by about a third in fiscal years 2020 and 2021 to help fund the cost-overrun JWST:

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said July 25 that, in order to address the delays and cost overruns with the James Webb Space Telescope, the agency may seek to slow down development of another flagship astrophysics mission.

Testifying before the House Science Committee in the first half of a two-part hearing on JWST, Bridenstine suggested that slowing down work on the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) until after JWST is launched could be a way to deal with JWST's increased cost while maintaining a "balanced portfolio" of large and small astrophysics programs.

"The idea of WFIRST presumed that JWST would be on orbit and delivering science," he said. "So it is my recommendation that we move forward with WFIRST after we move forward with JWST."

"It is true we can do some development now. I'm not saying that we need to shut down WFIRST, and we shouldn't do it," he added. "What I'm saying is there's opportunity here."

The second part of the hearing will involve questioning of Northrop Grumman CEO Wes Bush on the 26th.

See also: NASA's next great space telescope is stuck on Earth after screwy errors

Previously: WFIRST Space Observatory Could be Scaled Back Due to Costs
Trump Administration Budget Proposal Would Cancel WFIRST
House Spending Bill Offers NASA More Money Than the Agency or Administration Wanted
Launch of James Webb Space Telescope Delayed Again, This Time to March 2021, Cost at $9.66 Billion


Original Submission

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  • (Score: -1, Troll) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 05 2020, @09:41PM (1 child)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 05 2020, @09:41PM (#967112)

    it surpassed my expectations but i still have plenty of bubblegum

    • (Score: -1, Troll) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 05 2020, @09:57PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 05 2020, @09:57PM (#967119)

      > "druid focket" channel on youtube
      > it surpassed my expectations but i still have plenty of bubblegum

      I think I'm in LOVE!

      Baby Don't Forget My Number!

      Girl You Know It's True, oo oo ooo i love you!

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 05 2020, @11:10PM (2 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 05 2020, @11:10PM (#967138)

    While NASA bureaucrats are circle jerking, Elon launches another dozen rockets.

  • (Score: 2) by JoeMerchant on Friday March 06 2020, @02:31AM (4 children)

    by JoeMerchant (3937) on Friday March 06 2020, @02:31AM (#967231)

    You can't delay the things that really matter on "what if something goes wrong in the future." Politicians come and go, even if WFIRST gets cancelled, there's a pretty good chance it would get re-funded in 2021.

    --
    Україна не входить до складу Росії.
    • (Score: 2) by MostCynical on Friday March 06 2020, @02:46AM (1 child)

      by MostCynical (2589) on Friday March 06 2020, @02:46AM (#967239) Journal

      Refunded.. Is that before or after the engineers have been reassigned?

      --
      "I guess once you start doubting, there's no end to it." -Batou, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex
      • (Score: 2) by JoeMerchant on Friday March 06 2020, @03:01PM

        by JoeMerchant (3937) on Friday March 06 2020, @03:01PM (#967429)

        Things move pretty slowly in Houston, if the program goes cold for a couple of years then it is screwed, but the better managers can find a way to hang on to their good engineers for a while (i.e. pay them from somewhere else...)

        --
        Україна не входить до складу Росії.
    • (Score: 2) by takyon on Friday March 06 2020, @02:52AM

      by takyon (881) <takyonNO@SPAMsoylentnews.org> on Friday March 06 2020, @02:52AM (#967240) Journal

      To be fair, Congress has already rebuffed most of the administration's NASA/space priorities. Previous attempts to defund things were slapped down, and the Artemis program [wikipedia.org] hasn't gotten funded yet.

      --
      [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 [soylentnews.org]
    • (Score: 1, Interesting) by khallow on Friday March 06 2020, @04:29AM

      by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Friday March 06 2020, @04:29AM (#967282) Journal

      Politicians come and go, even if WFIRST gets cancelled, there's a pretty good chance it would get re-funded in 2021.

      Well, if that happens, hopefully it'll get defunded in 2022. After all, one of the things that goes wrong in the future is that bad ideas take the oxygen away from the good ideas. Keep in mind the "is not ready to proceed with another multi-billion-dollar telescope until Webb has been successfully launched and deployed" issue. WFIRST has probably displaced several good ideas already just like the JWST.

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