SEATTLE – NASA is preparing to move into the next phase for a future large space telescope that could take two decades, building on lessons learned from past missions.
At the recent 241st meeting of the Astronomical Society, NASA officials outlined their approach to developing what the agency is now calling the Habitable World Observatory, a 6.5-meter space telescope operating in the ultraviolet, visible and near-ultraviolet wavelengths. recommendations for a future large space mission in the Astro2020 decadal truck published in November 2021.
Specifically, NASA called for a decade to build a technology development program to support both the world’s habitable observatory, as well as two future large space telescopes operating at far infrared and X-ray wavelengths, often collectively referred to as the new Great Observatories. NASA responded last year by creating the Large Observatory Technology Maturation Program, or GOMAP.
In a NASA conference room on January 9, Mark Clampin, director of NASA’s astronomy division, said that the first three phases of GOMAP are now nearly complete. That first step was largely organizational, setting plans and strategies for the overall program.
The second phase of GOMAP will soon begin by establishing a Science, Technology, Architecture Review Team (START) that will mature the concept for a habitable World Observatory. “The first thing we really have to do is wait and see what the science of this mission is,” he said, which also searches for habitable exoplanets along with other general astrophysics.
“Dear colleagues” letters soliciting nominations to serve on STARTS will go out in two weeks, said Julie Crooke, program executive for GOMAP at NASA Headquarters, in a separate interview released the same day. The team will look at various options for the mission plan and make a recommendation to NASA on how to proceed, he said. “We really want to look at the whole range of options.”
Crooke said he wants to attract a broad cross-section of people from the science and engineering communities to start with about 20 to 30 people at the polls. They are augmented by independent consultants who will provide cost modeling and scheduling expertise.
The schedule presented at the session shows the two phases of GOMAP’s work through the current fiscal year 2024. Phase three would follow through fiscal year 2028, completing work that would prepare the World’s Habitable Observatory to enter Phase A of development in fiscal year 2029.
NASA wants to move “as quickly as possible” through the observatory’s design and technology development work, he said, but warned that time would be significant. “It depends on the funding that NASA receives.”
Clampin said at the Prytaneum meeting that the development of the World Habitable Observatory would be guided by six principles. The first thing is to build it to schedule, rather than releasing the mission because of technology or science requirements. “We’re going to treat the mission like a planetary mission that has a launch window,” he said. Doing so, he said, will help reduce costs while accelerating work on the next observations.
Other principles include technologies developed previously, such as the split mirrors for the James Webb Space Telescope and the coronagraph instrument developed for the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope; using next-generation vehicles with increased payload mass and volume; and to ensure that the telescope is compatible with the technology used by the satellites, so it can be upgraded and upgraded. Two other principles are the scientific and technical margins of robustness to mature its design and key technologies before it reaches full development.
That approach was to get a habitable Earth Observatory ready for launch by the early 2040s. However, some scientists want NASA to move faster, not only to get the mission launched faster, but also to accelerate the development of long-distance and X-ray missions, which are also part of the New Great Observatory.
Jason Tumlinson, an astronomer at the Space Science Institute Telescope session, showed one long-term economic projection that had a habitable Earth Observatory launched in 2041, with far-infrared and X-ray missions following in 2047 and 2051. “I think this is slower,” he said. “This is what we want, but it is not fast enough.
Or it shows an economic projection that moves the Habitable World Observatory to 2035, with the next two missions to follow in 2040 and 2045. By doing so, he argued, it would be possible to increase NASA’s astrophysics budget, now around $1.5 billion a year, to $2.5 billion a year later in the 2020s.
“This is achievable if we want it,” he said. “It is entirely possible if our community together not only asks for bonds, but demands them.”
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