(Image: Jonny Gios/Unsplash)You’d think NASA would want to take a breather after its successful launch of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), but that isn’t the case. NASA is already gearing up to develop its next big telescope using the insights gleaned from last year’s launch.
When the National Academies published Astro2020 (short for “ Pathways to Discovery in Astronomy and Astrophysics for the 2020s”) in 2021, the decadal survey urged NASA to pursue the development of a future space telescope that would operate at ultraviolet, visible and near-infrared wavelengths. The goal, according to the survey, was for this telescope to pave the way for far-infrared and X-ray telescopes. All of these projects could be housed under one umbrella program.
NASA appears to have taken Astro2020’s recommendation to heart. Last year the agency kicked off the Great Observatory Technology Maturation Program (GOMAP), a tech development initiative that would focus on what are commonly called the “New Great Observatories.” According to NASA officials who spoke at the 241st Meeting of the American Astronomical Society earlier this month, GOMAP’s first task is to develop a 6.5-meter UV, visible, and near-infrared space telescope—the very one Astro2020 recommended just over a year ago. It will be called the Habitable Worlds Observatory (HWO).
NASA has already pieced together the policies required for such a feat. It plans on establishing a Science, Technology, and Architecture Review Team (START) involving 20 to 30 scientists and engineers. START will work with a group of consultants to figure out the telescope’s financials and development schedule. Said schedule is expected to be quite lengthy, with planning extending through 2024 and other miscellaneous preparations expected to take until 2028. In 2029, NASA will begin Phase A of its development process. Early estimates have placed the telescope’s launch in 2035 and 2041.
The HWO will integrate proven technologies like the JWST’s segmented mirrors and the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope’s coronagraph. NASA plans on facilitating satellite servicing to keep the telescope upgraded and conduct repairs when needed. High-payload launch vehicles will be required to bring HWO to orbit. At a town hall meeting, NASA’s astrophysics director Mark Clampin said the agency is “going to treat the mission like a planetary mission that has a launch window” to keep the HWO’s timeline (and costs) tight.
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