Will WFIRST Suffer Because of JWST?

In this episode, we’ve all heard about the delays and cost overruns of NASA’s flagship observatory, JWST. How will it affect upcoming large space telescope missions, like WFIRST?

2550 Views | Published on 30th Jul, 2018

Hello Space Fans and welcome to another edition of Space Fan News. In this episode, we’ve all heard about the delays and cost overruns of NASA’s flagship observatory, the James Webb Space Telescope. It is over budget by a lot and over a decade late from its original scheduled launch date. But will congress approve the increase? What impact will these delays have on everything else NASA is trying to do? Well on casualty may be WFIRST, the follow on project to JWST.

Last week, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said to a congressional hearing looking into the budget overruns of JWST that in order to address the delays and cost overruns with the James Webb Space Telescope, the agency may seek to slow down development of another flagship astrophysics mission: WFIRST, the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope.

In the past, when NASA commits to do a mission, especially a large one, the budget for the rest of NASA’s science directorate aren’t affected. That’s why in the past I haven’t been very sympathetic to astronomers complaining that if only we weren’t build such-and-such mission, then my pet science project could get funded.

The problem with that argument is that if your science project isn’t getting funded, not having project such-and-such wouldn’t have made a difference to you. NASA blocks this money up in ways that they are pretty much autonomous and even if they weren’t they are heavily influenced by the priorities laid out by the National Academy of Sciences Decadal Surveys that every 10 years outline what science astronomers most want to do.

If your pet project isn’t part of that science, then it has a much harder time getting funding.

But with the delay and cost overruns of JWST, a project that was decided on two decadal surveys ago, it looks like the next mission coming down the pike will be affected.

I think congress will probably approved the additional 800 million dollars that JWST needs but some of that money will probably come out of money that would fund WFIRST, a mission scheduled to launch in 2025 and was made possible in part by the gifting of two Hubble-like chassis from the National Reconnaisance Office back in 2012.

WFIRST will have the same optical resolution as Hubble but a much wider field of view. Right now, when you look at a Hubble image, you’re seeing a section of sky that covers a grain of sand held out at arms length. WFIRST will cover over 100 times that area of sky which allows us to see more of the sky in less time.

This is good for finding exoplanets and measure the light from over a billion galaxies over the course of its proposed six year mission.

But with the JWST problems it may not launch. The Trump Administration proposed cancelling the project in its NASA budget recommendation but congress gave them some money to keep going anyway.

But to keep JWST going, NASA may be forced to fill in the 800 million dollar shortfall from WFIRST, I will keep you posted.

Since I’ve been reporting on this, many of you have rightfully claimed that someone should be held accountable. I took some fire for saying I didn’t really care. If we could spend 9 billion on an aircraft carrier, then we can do this too. In fact I said it was more important.

But I also get that this is getting ridiculous. Northrop Grumman, the defense contract that’s building JWST is making a tidy profit on these cost overruns and it’s starting to feel like they are just gouging us. Defense contractor as so used to having all the money they want, they just don’t feel accountable. I heartily wish that would change.

I think the 800 million needs to come out of Northrops pocket and they should not get any more money till it launches successfully.

I wonder why my friend Alberto doesn’t return my calls anymore?

We’ll that’s it for this week Space Fans. Please check out a new website with some Deep Astronomy t-shirts designed by a Space Fan, they are really cool and you’re helping Deep Astronomy by getting one. The link is in the description box.

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Thanks to all of you for watching and as always, Keep Looking Up!

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