Every other year NASA conducts a Senior Review of its astrophysics missions that have completed their nominal mission and are requesting an extension of their mission.
The 2012 review panel just reported.
The panel had an interesting task – to rank in priority the operating missions:
Kepler and Fermi are being reviewed for the first time, as is Hubble , as effectively it goes into a “new mission ops” mode after refurbishments.
Hubble and Chandra are large missions with large operations costs; Kepler, Fermi and Spitzer are medium size Discovery class missions; Swift is an Explorer class mission; Suzaku is Japanese, and Planck and XMM are ESA missions.
The 2010 Senior Review was brutal, in the context of significant budget cuts, and 5 of 11 missions reviewed were terminated.
This panel declined to rank the missions – rather each class is rated in multiple separate categories and there is no recommendation for overall science priorities.
All missions are highly rated, and the committee effectively ask for full funding for all missions, with additional funding beyond that requested for a couple of missions.
This is to be contrasted with a reality where the requested budget amount is insufficient to meet the requests, and additional cuts are not unlikely, either through the normal budget battle between the Executive and Congress, or through recissions being triggered by the budget deal.
There are some strange recommendations, like Suzaku being ranked below Planck and Fermi in its class, but then being recommended for additional augmented funds, beyond what they requested?!
Reading between the lines, the panel seems to want NASA to cut mission operations for Hubble and Chandra to achieve any savings, though there is strange language about Kepler extended mission possibly not being funded, but to have data analysis funding protected.
There is harsh language about the obscurity of the staffing of Hubble ops at Goddard and Space Telescope.
But the panel stops shy of actually making recommendations, or prioritization to NASA, the report is a Rorschach test for HQ administrators, they can see in it what they want to see.
The problem is that something almost certainly has to give, and the decision is now being kicked upstairs with obscure guidance.
This could end badly.
PS: Nature News blog take on SR12
– they have an optimistic read and an official NASA statement, that the money will be found and all is good – well except Fermi has to go into ramp down and HST needs to explain itself (We Are Goddard ought to do it…)
“All missions continue operations after the 2012 Senior Review.
HST continues at their currently funded levels.
Chandra’s Guest Observer budget is increased to account for decreases in FY11.
Swift and Kepler mission operations are extended through FY16 with funding for data analysis.
Planck will support one year extended operations of the Low Frequency Instrument (LFI).
Spitzer’s operations are extended through FY14 with closeout in FY15.
U.S. science support of Suzaku is extended to March 2015, to provide one-year overlap with Astro-H.
Funding for U.S. support of XMM-Newton is also extended through March 2015.
Fermi operations are extended through FY16, with a 10 percent per year reduction starting in FY14.
All FY15-FY16 decisions are for planning purposes and will be revisited in the 2014 Senior Review.”