Cancellation of the WFIRST telescope and the Russians in orbit of the moon

    The situation when there are enough resources for all the desired projects is usually found only in computer games, and at a low level of complexity. In real life, as a rule, you have to choose, and moving in one direction means stagnation in others. Very brightly, this thesis was illustrated by two news last week, good and bad. On the one hand, the participating countries of the Gateway near-moon station project confirmed their interest in further work, and on the other hand, the NASA draft budget for 2020 did not find a place for the WFIRST infrared telescope, which could mean the end of the era of the agency’s flagship telescopes.

    WFIRST Telescope, NASA Image

    When the flagships leave

    The WFIRST infrared telescope, which should have a field of view 100 times larger than the Hubble and proposed to detect exoplanets and study dark matter, is not the first time on the verge of cancellation. A year ago, NASA did not provide money for it in the draft budget, but the Senate nevertheless allocated funds to continue the work. Now WFIRST is in a worse situation - in the US Congress, dissatisfaction with delays and overshoots of the James Webb telescope is growing , and for the second time the project may not be saved.

    NASA Draft Budget by Year, Source

    In total, NASA's draft budget for 2020 is $ 21 billion, 500 million less than a year ago. The reductions could not but affect the already running programs, for example, it was proposed to abandon the development of version 1B for the SLS rocket with a more lifting upper stage Exploration Upper Stage. But the most severe blow was dealt to astrophysics and the study of the Earth. The budget of the astrophysical department is proposed to be reduced by 347 million, from 1,191 million to 844, and the study of the Earth by 152 million. In general, they plan to reduce the scientific part of the budget from 6.9 to 6.3 billion.

    John Morse, head of NASA's astrophysics department, told in an interview:
    We will have James Webb, a great observatory, but nothing more. The proposed budget cannot fit another observatory, which will cost several billion. Therefore, they canceled WFIRST - there is simply no money for a project worth $ 3 billion and for 7-8 years.

    Stopping work on the telescope, which would be next after James Webb, could mean that the agency will not have the next large telescope for many years. Let me remind you that the agency’s projects are grouped by the amount of allocated funds, and the most expensive, “flagship” (Flagship) missions include the Hubble, Chandra and James Webb telescopes. WFIRST co-chair David Spergel told verbatim:
    If this budget is accepted, then there will be no new “flagship” missions.

    It is also worth noting that Gateway and SLS did not “eat” WFIRST directly, an order of magnitude more funds are allocated to them. But, for example, the proposed 363 million dollars for the development of lunar landing vehicles almost exactly coincide with the annual costs of WFIRST, which Morse estimates at 400 million.

    Also, alas, amid a budget cut, WFIRST is not the only potential victim. It is proposed to cancel the PACE ocean exploration satellite and the CLARREO Pathfinder climatology equipment for the ISS. And what is really sad, in the draft budget there is no money for the STEM educational program, in which students had the opportunity to work in agency projects. However, the STEM funding stop was already proposed in the budgets of 18 and 19, but faced sharp criticism from both Republicans and Democrats, so the program still has a chance to get funds this year.

    The same and Gateway

    Fresh Gateway near-moon station diagram, NASA image

    At the beginning of March , a meeting of a multilateral coordination group consisting of representatives of NASA, European (ESA), Canadian (CSA) and Japanese (JAXA) space agencies and Roscosmos took place, at which the parties confirmed their intention to continue working. After the uncertainty of the second half of 2018, it is gratifying to see that Roskosmos remains involved in the project. It is also worth noting that the Canadian Space Agency became the first official partner of NASA, February 28 this year, the rest of the agencies so far are only part of the coordination group. The composition of the participants coincides with the agencies that created the ISS, except that the participation shares have changed.

    It can be seen from the published diagram that Gateway is the most American project - three modules are created in NASA, and removable logistics are marked as joint NASA and JAXA. ESAs create one module and participate with JAXA in another. Russia will do one module, and Canada will provide a manipulator. The Orion ship consists of a NASA command compartment and a service compartment created in ESA. So the ratio of shares is similar to 4 (NASA): 2 (ESA): 1 (JAXA): 1 (CSA): 1 (Roscosmos). It is logical to assume that the astronauts and astronauts will be represented at the station in proportion to the share of participation in the project, similar to the ISS. And if Orion will fly with a crew of 4 people, then the Americans will occupy 2 seats, one, most likely, will go to the European astronaut, and the latter, according to some scheme, will be received by Canadian astronauts, Japan and Russian astronauts. This is noticeably different from the usual distribution of roles on the ISS, where the presence of Americans and Russians is most strong, Europeans fly regularly, but not every flight, the Japanese fly less often than once a year, and Canadians appear every few years. Also, since the station is supposed to be visited, the crews will depend on the work directly performed, for example, the assembly of the first three modules will be performed by Americans and Europeans, and the first Canadian, Japanese or Russian will arrive with the first module or important equipment of the corresponding country.

    According to current plans, the Gateway will be a visited station in a highly elliptical halo orbit around the moon. In 2022, on a commercial launch vehicle, the Power and Propulsion Element (PPE) module with solar panels and an electric jet engine should go to the Moon. In 2024, the European System Providing Refuelling, Infrastructure and Telecommunications (ESPRIT), a module with additional fuel reserves, communication equipment and a gateway for scientific equipment, and a small US Utilization Module with space for crew will simultaneously fly. The station of three modules will be assembled by the crew of the first visiting expedition, who arrived on the Orion ship. Then, two habitable modules will be added to the complex, a removable logistic, Canadian manipulator (should arrive at the first logistic) and a Russian multifunction module, judging by the image, which is mainly the docking bay. Gateway is planned to be used both for missions to the moon and for sending a Martian ship in the 2030s.

    Only registered users can participate in the survey. Please come in.

    Telescopes or Gateway?

    • 29.2% I want new cool telescopes! 100
    • 70.7% I want a near-moon station! 242

    Also popular now: