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NASA Mulling Fate of Nine Astrophysics Missions

NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array X-ray observatory, or NuSTAR, is one of the missions being considered for extended funding. Credit: NASA artist's concept

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — A NASA Senior Review panel will decide in June how to prioritize funding for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 among nine astrophysics initiatives that currently cost a combined $65 million a year to keep in service.

“The missing money is probably on the order of about $10 million,” Paul Hertz, NASA’s Astrophysics Division director, told members of a NASA Advisory Council panel March 27.

Six of the projects vying for extended funding are U.S.-based. Three are overseen by international space agencies and have U.S. partners.

The NASA missions are: 

  • The Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope.
  • The Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array X-ray observatory.
  • The infrared Spitzer Space Telescope.
  • The Swift Telescope, which tracks gamma ray bursts.
  • A proposed Kepler space telescope follow-on mission known as K2.
  • The Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, which was brought out of hibernation last year to help search for asteroids on a collision course with Earth.

Also in the running are two European Space Agency missions: XMM-Newton — an X-ray observatory — and Planck, which studied relic radiation from the Big Bang. Planck was decommissioned in October, but its data analysis program continues.

The final contender is Japan’s Suzaku X-ray telescope.

The Hubble Space Telescope, which has a proposed $100 million annual budget, and the Chandra X-ray Observatory, with an operations budget of about $60 million, are reviewed separately, Hertz said.

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