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The era of great NASA space telescopes may end



James Webb Space Telescope ($ 8.9 billion) may be the last major budget observatory that NASA launches for a while.

White House Budget Telescope 2020 (WFIRST), space mission for $ 3.2 billion, 2020, considered as the core of astrophysicist research until 2020 and beyond.

And this budget supports the financing of NASA astrophysics at such a low level in the coming years that the agency will not be able to develop yet another ambitious, flagship observatory for large tickets in the near future, according to experts.

Listed: NASA weighs WFIRST with JWST Overrun funding

"If this budget is really a budget, there will be no future flagships," said David Spergel, a theoretical astrophysicist at Princeton University.

"We will have a JWST ̵

1; a wonderful observatory – and that's all," said John Morse, who led the NASA Astrophysics Division from 2007 to 2011. Now he is the general director of the BoldlyGo Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the development of space science missions.

JWST, the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope Signal is currently scheduled to be removed in May 2021 after several delays and significant costs.

A budget budget for astrophysics

The proposal for the federal budget for 2020, which the White House issued last week allocates $ 21 billion to NASA – $ 500 million less than the space agency this year.

The agency's research funding was extremely badly affected, dropping from $ 6.9 billion this year to $ 6.3 billion in 2020. A significant part of the reduction falls on astrophysics, which falls from $ 1.19 billion to $ 845 million . (This does not include the $ 353 million allocated for the following year to JWST, which has its own funding line.)

Financing astrophysics remains relatively equal in the proposed "years", ranging from $ 902 million to $ 965 million between 2021 and 2024.

This is not enough money to support a diverse and balanced research portfolio that includes small, medium, and flagship missions, "Morse said.

"Under the design, in this budget request, you can not place a billions observatory in the rest of the budget," he said Space.com. "Therefore, they canceled WFIRST – they took money. There is no money for a mission that costs $ 3 billion over seven or eight years."

Restoration of the flagship potential will require, at a minimum, an increase in the budget for astrophysics by 2020. Morse said that $ 400 million was "saved" when WFIRST was canceled.

Powerful Space Observatory

WFIRST was attached to the largest space mission of the highest priority in astronomy / astrophysics survey . Decadent surveys, which are united every 10 years by the National Academy of Sciences of the United States, serve as research maps for government agencies such as NASA; usually follow their recommendations.

WFIRST remains in the budget and scheduled for launch in 2024, said Spergel. The observatory has a main mirror measuring 2.4 feet (2.4 meters), the same size as Hubble. But WFIRST will have a field of view 100 times that of Hubble.

WFIRST will have two scientific instruments that will allow the observatory to conduct a variety of groundbreaking astronomical studies. For example, astronomers will use WFIRST to characterize dark energy – the mysterious power of accelerating the expansion of the universe – as never before, to open thousands of exoplanets and directly portray some other worlds

WFIRST's extensive study was also specially designed to complement the JWST, which will deeply explore the narrow bits of the sky, "Morse said.

Thus, the illumination of WFIRST will cause a serious blow to astronomy, astrophysics and the scientific enterprise as a whole, he added. And one step back from the big and bold space telescopes that the WFIRST cancellation also seems to threaten the position of the United States as the leader of space science, both he and Spergel.

"If we stop doing the flagships of astrophysics, we stop talking," said Spergel Space.com.

This is because flagships are usually incredibly productive and influential. Think of Hubble, which went into Earth's orbit in April 1990. The contributions of this famous space telescope are too numerous to push away from them, but they include helping astronomers identify dark energy and bring the beauty and secrets of the universe to people around the world with the finest space photographs ever made.

Hubble is still strong, but lately it shows some signs of age. NASA's other operational space telescope, X-ray Observatory Chandra also lasts a long time in the tooth; It started its activities in 1999.

Everyone hopes that JWST will pursue a great science for many years to come. But there are no guarantees in this regard, and the naked flagship wardrobe after the launch of the JWST 2021 is a depressing prospect for both Spergel and Morse.

Morse called for the current high-energy physical landscape as a cautionary tale. The United States had a chance to consolidate itself as a leader in particle physics for decades in the 1990s with the construction of a superconductive super collider (SSC) in Texas. But the funding for this project was extended, and Europe ended up taking the mantle in 2010 with the completion of the Big Hadron Collider (which, although extremely capable, is much smaller and less powerful than the SSC).

– Are we heading? astrophysics after launching JWST?

Not Installed in Stone

But there is still hope for WFIRST, and for future flagships that can go in its footsteps. A request for the federal budget for 2020 is just a request. The adopted budget should have Congressional approval, and the Congress had previously advocated WFIRST.

Indeed, the White House reduced its mission to the 2019 budget request, but the Congress entered and resumed funding.

And Spergel, and Morse would like history to repeat itself.

"Congress had strong bipartisan support for astrophysics," said Spergel. "I hope that these reductions in astrophysics will be canceled."

The book by Mike Wall about the search for another's life " Out There " (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; 19659039) Karl Tate ) yet. Follow it on Twitter @michaeldwall . Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook .


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