The astronomical community today released its newest decadal survey, a outline of what major new telescope projects that community recommends the federal government should fund for the next ten years.
More details here.
This is I think the seventh such decadal survey since the first in the early 1960s. In the past these surveys prompted the construction of numerous space telescopes, such as the Hubble Space Telescope, the James Webb Space Telescope, and many others. Until 2000 these survey were enormously influential, which is why space-based astronomy boomed in the 1980s and 1990s.
Now I call it a fantasy because I think it unlikely that most of its proposals — especially the space-based projects — will see fruition, based on the recent history in this century. For example, the 2001 survey recommended the James Webb Space Telescope among many other recommendations. The cost overruns of that project however eventually caused almost all the other space-based proposals to be cancelled, not only in the 2000s but in the 2010s as well. Furthermore, the 2010 survey called for the building of WFIRST, another Webb-like big space telescope that is now called the Roman Telescope, and that project’s high cost and complexity has further forced the elimination of almost all other new space telescopes. Nor has Roman been built and launched in the 2010s as proposed. It is still under development, with the same kinds of cost orverruns and delayed seen with Webb, which means in the 2020s most of the new proposals in this latest decadal survey will have to take a back seat to it, and will likely never get built.
Prove of my analysis is in the report’s press release:
The first mission to enter this program should be an infrared/optical/ultraviolet (IR/O/UV) telescope — significantly larger than the Hubble Space Telescope — that can observe planets 10 billion times fainter than their star, and provide spectroscopic data on exoplanets, among other capabilities. The report says this large strategic mission is of an ambitious scale that only NASA can undertake and for which the U.S. is uniquely situated to lead. At an estimated cost of $11 billion, implementation of this IR/O/UV telescope could begin by the end of the decade, after the mission and technologies are matured, and a review considers it ready for implementation. If successful, this would lead to a launch in the first half of the 2040 decade. [emphasis mine]
Proposing something that won’t be built for two decades is absurd. And the cost is even more absurd, as it is ten times what Hubble cost and seems more designed as a long term jobs program where nothing will get built but money will continue to pour in endlessly to the contractors and astronomers hired. That is what Webb and Roman essentially became.
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