The Guide for the Next Decade of Space Research Has Been Dropped

Who pays the astronomy and astrophysics projects of the United States — our collective view of the void, searching for answers to the universe? Well, we all, through taxes, that the government decides how to divide through the annual budget appropriations.

But how did NASA decide to use the funds it provided – nearly $ 23 billion by 2021? For its scientific missions in space and on earth, the agency — and almost all U.S. space scientists — draw their findings from the Astrophysics and Astronomy Decadal Survey. Every decade since the 1960s, groups of hundreds of experts, led by a steering committee organized by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, have produced these major reports aimed at recommending space exploration and research. for the next ten years and beyond.

This year’s survey — officially called “Pathways to Discovery in Astronomy and Astrophysics for the 2020s”—Released today. It’s called “Astro2020” for short, despite its release in late 2021. It’s due last year, but the Covid-19 pandemic has caused many delays in an already difficult process for estimating. of 150 scientists comprising 13 panels focusing on the topics. such as cosmology, galaxies, stars, particle physics, and the state of the profession. To complete the survey, they reviewed nearly 900 white papers submitted by researchers from around the world, and completed hundreds of hours of Zoom meetings.

“It’s a much more difficult process to complete in Zoom than face -to -face meetings,” said Rachel Osten, an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute, a Johns Hopkins researcher, and member of the Astro2020 Steering Committee. “That’s why we need to figure out how to do it with what we have.”

Those Zoom meetings guide the future of science itself. “Their decision will affect what scientists do,” said Paul Goldsmith, a team supervisor at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. A decadal survey usually calls for specific large and medium-sized missions on certain budgets; it also highlights important areas of scientific exploration for the next decade, prompting researchers to fill in the gaps in their work. Projects will be funded — or not — based on what is in the survey.

The current 500-plus-page report focuses on three scientific areas: The hunt for habitable exoplanets, exploring the origin of the universe, and studying gases to understand the evolution of galaxies. Within these categories, it calls for a number of missions, including the construction of a large infrared/optical/ultraviolet space telescope, funding of far infrared and x-ray missions, the continued growth of significant land-based astronomical assets, a steady drumbeat in small “probe” -class missions, and an increased investment in farm equity.

It also recommends changing the way key mission proposals are turned into accomplished projects, by creating a billion-dollar-plus program that will take care of concepts from their earliest beginnings. stage to help ensure it is delivered on time and on budget. Proposing a general process change, rather than just choosing a top-line project or two, is “a game changer of how decadal surveys are typically run,” as Osten. “Usually it picks a project that’s the winner, and everyone gets home.”

A New Pipeline for Multiple Missions

Decades of surveys from the 1960s to the 90s laid the foundation for NASA’s “Great Observatories” — the Hubble Space Telescope, the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory, the Chandra X-ray Observatory, and the Spitzer Space Telescope. For decades, they have sent us images and oceans of information from deep space about black holes, exoplanets, and more.

These projects, although very important, are also notorious for being late and over budget. (Take, for example, the James Webb Space Telescope, to be launched this fall after being included in the decadal survey until 2000.) “A decade is not the appropriate measure of time when thinking about big vision projects,” Osten said. It hasn’t been long enough to see a space mission from concept to launch; as such, it is also often nearly impossible to estimate their actual cost while they are still in the early stages.

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