WFIRST Cold Wave

Saluton Mondo. Awfully sorry about the gap in service. Busy and all that. Anyway.

So here I am in Sunny Pasadena. Last time I was here it was, like, a hundred degrees or something. This time its overcast and cold ! The locals are apologising and wearing double jumpers. But it seems appropriate because I am here for a meeting  about an infra-red astronomy mission, WFIRST . As many of you will know, WFIRST has a weird history, and is a sort of merger of various proposed missions for dark energy (JDEM), supernovae (SNAP), microlensing (err… something), and IR sky survey (NIRSS). Its pretty exciting but … Euclid is scooping some of that science, and JWST  is eating all the money.

Old chum Richard Griffiths (aka Griff), gave his NASA HQ overview the same day as the President’s proposed FY2013 budget was revealed, including the NASA budget. He wore his tin hat. You can read an overview of the impact on science in this Nature News article, but here are the astro headlines :

  • JWST clearly supported : extra $109M this year
  • Planetary science takes the hit : Exo Mars collaboration with ESA looks dead
  • WFIRST explicitly zeroed

What we were told here at the meeting is that WFIRST may or may not be the next flagship, but if it is, the faucet will not turn on until JWST launch, and then take seven years. So that sounds like a 2025 launch at earliest. Which of course gives the gravy wave and X-ray folk time to re-group.

Oh.. and when I say “zeroed” that can still include $4-5M/yr of study money, as now. But thats just short change in NASA-land…

I got temporarily over-excited on page 61, as there is a “Decadal surveys missions” wedge, with 144M in FY2013. However … this means the Earth Sciences Decadal Survey … oh well.

Meanwhile, it seems NSF overall did quite well, but I have heard no news about how astro did inside this… any reader gossip ?

Finally, in case you hadn’t heard, the Spergel report recommends that the US spend $20M on Euclid….

9 Responses to WFIRST Cold Wave

  1. Martin E. says:

    US$20M is not a lot for a hardware contribution to Euclid. Rumors flying around where I’ve been are that this is the scale for the science team, and that the hardware contribution is more on the US$100M scale. Any confirmation from anyone?

  2. andyxl says:

    Martin – the Spergel report says this is for purchasing arrays or making reaction wheels. But it also talks explicitly about science team rep, and supporting a US team, which I understand might be 10-20 people. That in itself would easily up such a modest amount. I guess people are hoping that that the 20M might be a thin wedge, but I have heard nothing specific.

  3. Albert Zijlstra says:

    I think we were aware from the discussions last year that the price for JWST would be delaying WFIRST until the 2025-2030 period. Another name change may be in order. And I am still worried about further cost increases for JWST which would have to funded from the science program.

  4. andyxl says:

    Albert – its not really the price over-runs per se that are delaying WFIRST, but the delayed launch date. The NASA folk seem to be saying that they can only do one flagship at a time. The fact that WFIRST only costs 1.5Bn versus 8.7Bn for JWST doesn’t help apparently.

    By the way, I remembered the micro-lensing mission proposal. It was called MPF (Microlensing Planet Finder) and it was claimed would only cost half a billion, for only a slightly smaller telescope than the JDEM-Omega design that WFIRST was based on.

  5. Albert Zijlstra says:

    I guess that once a project gets as big as JWST, it has to monopolize the resources. Any delays give more cost overruns so the available money is used most efficiently in getting JWST of the ground first. Which is your point. But ithis was much less of a problem when JWST was still a cheapy at only 4 bilion or so – cost overruns do have an effect.

    Would it make sense to split off the cheapest part of the WFIRST parts (perhaps MPF) and launch that early? Micro lensing needs a wide field of view, but could live with a smaller aperture which would bring the cost down

  6. andyxl says:


    “Would it make sense to split off the cheapest part of the WFIRST parts (perhaps MPF) and launch that early?”

    Only if you can get the budget inside the Discovery class limit (400M?) and even then its not obvious.

    While at the WFIRST meeting, I suggested this w.r.t. to the IR sky survey bit, but was pretty much shot down in flames. Actually, if anything it makes sense to go the other way – accept you will go after Euclid, and make sure you do something better

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    WFIRST Cold Wave | The e-Astronomer

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