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A major university consortium that manages many ground- and space-based telescopes has proposed that a new giant optical space telescope be built to replace Hubble.
A report published today by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy in Washington, D.C., lays out the rationale for another orbiting observatory. It will have a mirror as big as 12 meters across, to both look for habitable planets around other stars and peer deep into the early aeons of the universe.
Hubble has a mirror 2.4 meters across, so this would be significantly larger. In fact, if built this new space telescope would make it bigger than any ground-based telescope that exists today.
As the article notes, the cost over-runs and delays of the infrared James Webb Space Telescope — which went from a $1 billion budget to $8 billion — will likely make Congress reluctant to fund a new giant project like this. Nonetheless, this report gives us a hint of where the astronomy community wants to head in future decades. For the past two decades they have poo-pooed the construction of a new and larger optical space telescope. It appears from this report that this culture is now changing.