NASA’s next flagship telescope is “not executable” in its current form
First came the Hubble Space Telescope. Now, NASA is finalizing development of the James Webb Space Telescope for launch in 2019. And finally, the space agency is beginning to design and develop its next great space telescope, the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope, or WFIRST.
This instrument will have a primary mirror of 2.4 meters, the same size as the Hubble's, and be designed to hunt for dark energy and spy on exoplanets. Although similar in size to Hubble, the WFIRST telescope's infrared instrument would have a field of view that is 100 times greater than the Hubble, allowing it to observe much more of the sky in less time. It was also supposed to carry a special coronagraph, which could block the light of stars and allow astronomers to observe exoplanets directly.
But a new report—released without fanfare on the Wednesday before the Thanksgiving holiday—calls into question the viability of the project. "The risks to the primary mission of WFIRST are significant and therefore the mission is not executable without adjustments and/or additional resources," the report states. It estimated the cost of the project at $3.9 billion to $4.2 billion, significantly above the project's $3.6 billion budget.