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The Era of the Great NASA Space Telescope Can End



The $ 8.9 billion James Webb Space Telescope may be the last big budget observatory NASA has launched shortly.

Proposition 2020 of the White House recommends the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), a $ 3.2 billion mission space viewed as a linchpin of astrophysics research by the 2020s and beyond.

And this budget keeps NASA's Astrophysics funding very low in the coming years that the agency will not be able to build another ambitious, big-ticket "observatory" observatory for the foreseeable future , experts say

Related articles: NASA weighs termination WFIRST to JWST Fund Too Loss

"If the budget is really the budget, flagships in the future, "said David Spergel, Princeton University theoretical astrophysicist, co-chair of the WFIRST science team.

"We will have JWST ̵

1; an amazing observatory – and that's it," says Jon Morse, who heads NASA's Astrophysics Division from 2007 through 2011. He now serves as CEO of BoldlyGo The Institute, a nonprofit focused on developing space-science missions.

JWST, charged as the substitute of the iconic NASA's Hubble Space Telescope is currently scheduled to lift in May 2021, after numerous delays and significant cost overruns.

A severe budget for astrophysics

The 2020 federal budget proposal, launched by the White House last week, provides $ 21 billion in NASA – nearly $ 500 million less than the space agency is getting this year.

The agency's funding agency was largely blocked, relinquishing from $ 6.9 billion this year to $ 6.3 billion by 2020. Most reductions in astrophysics, which dropped from $ 1.19 billion to $ 845 million . (That does not count $ 353 million allocated next year at JWST, with its own funding line.)

Astrophysics funding will remain somewhat flat in the proposed "year of release," from $ 902 million up to $ 965 million between 2021 and 2024.

That's not enough money to maintain a diverse and balanced research portfolio that includes small, medium and major missions, Morse said.

"By design, at the request of this budget, you will not fit into a multibillion-dollar observatory on the remaining budget," he told Space.com. "That's why they canceled WFIRST – they took the money. There's no money to implement a mission worth $ 3 billion over seven or eight years."

Restoration of flagship capability requires, at a minimum, passing the 2020 astrophysics budget

A powerful space observatory

WFIRST was established as the top priority of a large space mission in 2010 astronomy / astrophysics decadal survey . Decades of surveys, together with every 10 years of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, serves as a research roadmap for government agencies such as NASA; They usually follow their recommendations.

WFIRST remains in the budget and is on schedule for the planned 2024 launch, Spergel said. The observatory features a basic mirror 7.9 ft (2.4 meters) wide, the same size as Hubble. But WFIRST will have a field of view 100 times larger than Hubble.

WFIRST will have two scientific instruments, allowing the observatory to conduct various astronomical investigations. For example, astronomers will use WFIRST to recognize dark energy – the mysterious force behind the expansion of the universal universe – as before, discover thousands of exoplanets and imagine some foreign worlds directly.

WFIRST's extensive review is specifically designed to supplement JWST, which will investigate narrower cuts of the sky deeper, Morse said.

Thus, the practice of WFIRST will have serious blows on astronomy, astrophysics and the scientific enterprise as a whole, he added. And the step back from large and bold telescopes to space is that WFIRST's seemingly unforgiving threat also threatens US position as space-science leader, both he and Spergel say.

"If we stop producing astrophysics flagships, we will stop leading," Spergel told Space.com.

That's because flagships often become incredibly productive and influential. Think about Hubble, which was launched on Earth orbit in April 1990. The contributions of this famous telescope space are so many to scream here, but with them helping astronomers discover dark energy and carrying beauty and mystery of the universe that lay people around the world with the most gorgeous cosmic pictures ever taken.

Hubble is still going strong, but it is showing some recent signs of ages. Other operations of NASA's primary planet-class space telescope, the Chandra X-ray Observatory also get long on the teeth; It was launched in 1999.

Everyone expects the JWST to carry out good science for many years to come. But there are no guarantees in that regard, and a flagship flagship after the launch of 2021 by JWST is a tiring prospect for both Spergel and Morse.

Morse has swept the current high energy-physics landscape as a warning.

The United States has had the opportunity to build itself as a particle-physics leader for decades to come in the 1990's to build the Superconducting Super Collider (SSC) in Texas. But the funding for that project was acquired, and Europe acquired the mantle in 2010 upon completion of the Large Hadron Collider (which, though highly capable, was smaller and stronger than SSC).

"Is that where we are headed to astrophysics after launch JWST?" Morse said.

Not set on rocks

But there is still hope for WFIRST, and for future flagships that can be followed in its footsteps. The 2020 federal budget request is just that, after all – a request. An enacted budget should have a congressional approval, and Congress will stand for WFIRST new.

In fact, the White House cut its mission to the budget request of 2019, but Congress overwhelmed and restored funding.

Spergel and Morse love to see history again.

"Congress has strong support for both parties for astrophysics," says Spergel. "I hope the reduction in astrophysics will be reversed."

Mike Wall's book about searching for foreign life, " Out There " (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; 19659039] Karl Tate ), is now. Follow him on Twitter @ michaeldwall . Follow us on Twitter @ Spacedotcom or Facebook .


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