Space & Planetary Science: August 2016 Archives

NASA Report: New Worlds, New Horizons: A Midterm Assessment, National Academies of Sciences

"NASA's WFIRST, the top-ranked large space-based mission in the 2010 survey, is designed to answer questions about dark energy, exoplanets, and general astrophysics. Since the release of the survey, the WFIRST scope and design have evolved to include a 2.4-meter telescope, larger infrared detectors, and an instrument called a coronagraph that enables directly imaging an exoplanet by blocking the light emitted by its parent star. These changes, while scientifically compelling, could result in further increased costs and further delays for the mission, the committee said. It recommended that prior to final confirmation of the changes, NASA conduct an independent review of the project to ensure it does not crowd out investment in the rest of NASA's astrophysics portfolio and, if necessary, de-scope the mission. The report also finds that the driving factor in the delay or non-pursuit of some new NASA initiatives, including WFIRST, was the schedule change and increased cost associated with the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) - a successor to the Hubble Space Telescope that is set to launch in 2018. As a result, NASA's WFIRST mission was delayed, and the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA) - a space-based gravitational wave detector that first took shape as collaboration between NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) - did not go forward."

What can Space Resources do for Astronomy and Planetary Science?, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

"The rapid cost growth of flagship space missions has created a crisis for astronomy and planetary science. We have hit the funding wall. For the past 3 decades scientists have not had to think much about how space technology would change within their planning horizon. However, this time around enormous improvements in space infrastructure capabilities and, especially, costs are likely on the 20-year gestation periods for large space telescopes. Commercial space will lower launch and spacecraft costs substantially, enable cost-effective on-orbit servicing, cheap lunar landers and "interplanetary cubesats" by the early 2020s. A doubling of flagship launch rates is not implausible. On a longer timescale it will enable large structures to be assembled and constructed in space. These developments will change how we plan and design missions."



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