Sun. Nov 28th, 2021

A report on the future of astrophysics research recommended that NASA is going to conduct many flagship observatories, beginning with a large space telescope that would cost $11 billion but would not fly until the early 2040s.

The National Academies’ Pathways to Discovery in Astronomy and Astrophysics for the 2020s study, issued November 4, the future space telescope was suggested as part of a bigger program that would later support work on X-ray space observatories.

Rather than developing those missions separately, the study proposed that NASA create a Great Observatories Mission and Technology Maturation Program to manage initial investigations of big flagship astrophysics missions as well as invest in the technology required to support them.

The survey committee anticipates that this procedure will reduce cost and risk while allowing for more frequent launches of flagship missions, even though it will need much greater upfront expenditure before a decadal proposal for execution.

According to one member of the decadal survey’s steering group, this approach is based on the recognition that many scientific aims stretch far beyond the study’s typical 10-year time span.

The first flagship mission of the new program would be a six-meter-diameter space telescope built for ultraviolet, visible, and infrared investigations. A telescope of this size would be ideal for analyzing possibly habitable exoplanets, but it may also be utilized for a variety of other astrophysical studies.

The report’s proposal is a hybrid of two NASA-funded decadal mission concepts. One, termed LUVOIR, provided a telescope with a diameter of 8 to 15 meters for ultraviolet, optical, and infrared investigations. The other, known as the Habitable Exoplanet Observatory or HabEx, envisaged a telescope between 3.2 and 4 meters across that could be paired with a second spacecraft known as a starshade to allow direct imaging of exoplanets.

HabEx may fall short of providing the extensive exoplanet census required by astronomers, and its ability to do extra astrophysics may be insufficient to justify its cost. After accounting for inflation, the final idea advocated by the decadal review would cost an estimated $11 billion, which is comparable to the James Webb Space Telescope. After several years of development to mature the mission idea and core technologies, work on it would begin later this decade.

The report proposed that NASA begin investigations of far-infrared and X-ray flagship missions, each with an anticipated cost of $3 billion to $5 billion, five years after the launch of the new giant space telescope. These concepts are comparable to the Lynx X-Ray Observatory and Origins Space Telescope mission studies that NASA financed to assist the decadal survey.

The decadal survey proposed that NASA pursue a series of medium-class probe missions in addition to a flagship mission program. Such projects, which may cost up to $1.5 billion apiece and launch once every ten years, would bridge the gap between NASA’s more expensive flagship missions and the smaller Explorer-class astrophysics probes launched every few years. It would be comparable to NASA’s planetary science program’s New Frontiers series of missions.

NASA studied nine options in anticipation of the interest in probe-class missions. The decadal determined that the original cost restriction of $1 billion for probe missions was excessively restrictive, with just one of the nine proposals fitting within that price range. By raising the cost ceiling to $2 billion, NASA would be unable to conduct such missions at the planned rate of once every decade.

By Gaby Lewis

Gabby is a postgraduate in biotechnology and has an immense interest in following technology developments. Quiet by nature, he is an avid Chess player. He is responsible for handling the office staff writers and providing them with the latest updates happenings in the world of technology. [email protected]

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