NASA starts designing the next-generation space observatory

NASA has developed a plan to create a large space observatory of the next generation, which will replace the current telescopes. The announcement was made at the sessions of the recently held 241st meeting of the American Astronomical Society.

NASA’s New Large Telescope Project

In December 2021, the National Research Council (NRC) at the National Academies of Sciences of the USA published a decade-long review in the field of astrophysics. This document defines the priority areas of activity for the coming years and ranks the projects of space missions and observatories according to the degree of importance. The proposals that have taken the highest places, as a rule, receive the green light and are implemented in the future.

The concept of the LUVOIR telescope. Source: NASA

The authors of the review advised NASA to combine two concepts of promising space observatories under the names LUVOIR and HabEx into a single project. The result of this merger should be a new flagship telescope with a 6.5-meter mirror capable of conducting observations in the visible, ultraviolet and near infrared spectrum. The project was provisionally named Habitable Worlds Observatory.

The Aerospace Administration accepted this recommendation by initiating the GOMAP (Great Observatory Technology Maturation Program) program. At the meeting of the American Astronomical Society held in January, NASA representatives spoke about the progress of its implementation.

Timeline for the construction of the new NASA telescope

The GOMAP program is divided into three main stages. At the moment, its first stage is close to completion. It was largely organizational. Its purpose was to develop a plan and policy for the entire program. The second stage of GOMAP will last until fiscal year 2024. It will be devoted to a more detailed study of the Habitable Worlds Observatory project and the definition of its main scientific goals, which will include both the search for habitable exoplanets and other tasks in the field of astrophysics. The implementation of the third stage will continue until 2028. It will be devoted to the preparation for the direct construction of the telescope.

At the moment, the launch of Habitable Worlds Observatory is provisionally scheduled for the early 2040s. It will be followed by two other large NASA observatories designed for observations in the far infrared and X-ray ranges. Their launch is expected in 2047 and 2051.

However, many scientists believe that this is too long and urge to accelerate the construction of telescopes. An alternative forecast published during a meeting of participants of the astronomical community showed that with an increase in NASA’s budget for astrophysics from the current 1.5 billion to 2.5 billion by the end of the 2020s, it would allow the launch of the Habitable Worlds Observatory in 2035, and the next two telescopes in 2040 and 2045.

According to

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