NASA Considering 4 Astrophysics Missions for the Next Decade

By: | July 22nd, 2016

Astrophysics

Astrophysics (Image Courtesy www.milne.hull.ac.uk)

Among NASA’s main objectives is to further the study of astrophysics, the branch of astronomy that looks at the physical nature of stars and how laws and theories of physics apply to them.

NASA’s Current Strategic Plan

NASA’s last Strategic Plan was published in 2014, and the next plan will be published in 2018. Among the objectives are the following;

  1. Expanding human presence into the solar system and to the surface of Mars.
  2. Conducting research on the International Space Station (ISS).
  3. Facilitating and utilizing US commercial capabilities to deliver cargo and crew to space.
  4. Understanding the sun and its interactions with Earth and the solar system including space weather.
  5. Ascertaining the content, origin, and evolution of the solar system and the potential for life elsewhere.
  6. Discovering how the universe works, explore how it began and evolved, and search for life on planets around other stars.
  7. Transform NASA missions and advanced the nation’s capabilities by maturing crosscutting and innovative space technologies.
  8. Enabling a revolutionary transformation for safe and sustainable US and global aviation and aeronautics research.
  9. Advancing knowledge of earth as a system to meet the challenges of environmental change and improve life on the planet.
  10. Optimize agency technology investments, foster open innovation, and facilitate technology infusion all for the greatest national benefit.
  11. Advancing the nation’s STEM education and workforce pipeline by working collaboratively with other agencies to engage students, teachers, and faculty in NASA’s missions and unique assets.
  12. Attract and advance a highly skilled, competent, and diverse workforce while cultivating innovation in the work environment, facilities, tools, and services.
  13. Ensure the availability and continued advancement of strategic, technical and programmatic capabilities.
  14. Provide secure, effective, and affordable information technologies and services to enable NASA’s missions.
  15. Ensure effective management of NASA programs and operations to complete missions safely and successfully.

Future Missions to Discover How the Universe Works

Item #6 in NASA’s Strategic Plan includes four potential missions that would follow the James Webb Space Telescope, which is scheduled for launch in 2018, and improve knowledge of stars in the universe. According to NASA, the missions include:

  • The X-ray Surveyor that “might discover the first generation of supermassive black holes in the infant universe, unravel the structure of the cosmic web and determine its impact on the evolution of galaxies, and determine the influence of dark matter on the evolution of the universe.” The following video explains this mission:

  • The Far-Infrared Surveyor that “might find bio-signatures in the atmosphere of exoplanets…, map the beginnings of chemistry, and explain the origins of dust and the molecules that form the cradle of life.” The following video explains what “Far-Infrared Rays” are:

  • The Large Ultraviolet, Optical, and Infrared Surveyor (LUVOIR) that “could be designed with a very large mirror that could capture the first starlight in the early universe, map the distribution of nearby dark matter with unprecedented resolution, detect water worlds and biomarkers on distant Earth-like planets, and image icy plumes from the moons of giant planets in our solar system.” The following video explains LUVOIR.

  • The Habitable Exoplanet Imaging Mission (HabEx) that “could search for signs of habitability in the atmospheres of exoplanets.” The following video explains how habitable planets are imaged.

The following link provides access to NASA budget documents, strategic plans, and performance reports.

David Russell Schilling

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