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posted by Fnord666 on Wednesday October 25 2017, @10:19PM   Printer-friendly
from the no-actual-scientific-target-needed dept.

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.

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  • (Score: 3, Interesting) by takyon on Thursday October 26 2017, @12:06AM

    by takyon (881) <> on Thursday October 26 2017, @12:06AM (#587628) Journal [] []

    ^ Is NASA to blame, or Congress?

    We have seen improvements at NASA. SpaceX has achieved a lot with NASA funding - much less than has been blown on the Space Launch System (SLS). Falcon Heavy and BFR may eclipse the SLS's capabilities. Reusability is already lowering the launch costs for customers, to include the Air Force soon.

    NASA has launched lower cost Discovery class programs [] since 1996. Two recent ones are Dawn and Kepler, both of which cost less than a $billion. Dawn has characterized Ceres, easily the most important dwarf planet we know of. I would say the Kepler observatory has had a bigger impact than any space telescope since Hubble, with its discovery of thousands of exoplanets. Now we have private [] money [] being spent on exoplanet-related missions.

    If U.S. ISS funding is canned in 2028, and no money was spent on manned missions to the Moon and Mars, NASA could launch even more telescopes. But unless a miracle happens, we will be forced to fly humans using the SLS.

    [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 []
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