Senior Review of NASA Astrophysics

Senior Review and rankings for the ten missions under evaluation for NASA Astrophysics in 2008 have been published.

  1. Swift
  2. Chandra
  3. GALEX
  4. Suzaku
  5. (Warm) Spitzer
  6. WMAP
  7. XMM
  9. RXTE
  10. Gravity Probe-B

Bottom line here is that NASA funds are too tight, so some operating missions are being reviewed for descoping or shut down.
Looks like GP-B will close shop, and expect RXTE to shut down in early 2009 as tentatively scheduled.

Criterion included cost-effectiveness, not just science return.

Under this rank order, at nominal budget requests, the $ runs out at Spitzer.
So there is not enough funding for a fully funded (Warm) Spitzer and everything below it would be cut.
(Warm) Spitzer is the Spitzer infra-red observatory after the cryogen runs out later this year, which will leave the mid-infrared detectors useless but the near-infrared instruments will be functional and of some use.

Swift is recommended for small funding augmentation, Chandra is recommended for ongoing nominal funding. Although the committee asks they find a few percent savings.

GALEX got slapped lightly for floating a nine year continuing mission - ambitious - but they get 3 year minimal continuation with recommendation for re-review and a "act as if each year is your last". Ominous.

Suzaku is cheap to NASA.

Which gets us to Spitzer which gets big thumbs up on the science, but it totally blows out the budget.
What to do? Spitzer will continue in some form, but it is not clear at what funding level, whether Guest Observing projects will be supported, or just legacy projects and predefined surveys and exploratory science. Be interesting to see what the decision is and what the funding level will be.
Some consideration will likely be given to the need to sustain the mid-IR expertise for the next five or so years until JWST flies.

WMAP gets a "minimal funding" recommendation.
Problem there is that it is not clear that going to seven or nine years of data will provide any marginal gains in actual information. Worth a low cost fishing expedition.

XMM recommendation is to cut the US Guest Observer program.
Start rounding up European collaborators folks.

INTEGRAL is another ESA mission and recommendation is to ramp down the Guest Observer program and hope the Europeans keep the data archives open.

RXTE shuts down end of Feb '09.
GP-B is terminated.


PS: Here is a link (pdf) to the full text of the review, now up on


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Did you find a pdf of the report?

Hi Stein,
Killing US XMM guest observer funding would of course be very bad for those of us who are getting excellent science out of it. However, there is no need to look for European collaborators to get observation time, as the Announcements of Opportunity are open to the entire world. See, for instance,

By Craig Heinke (not verified) on 18 May 2008 #permalink

I am confused about your comments regarding Spitzer.

The last email I got from them said that the only supported mode would be large surveys, legacy style, with no observer funding support.

If that is the already proposed mode and NASA does not have the funds to support it, I would think that this is the end of Spitzer.

By Brad Holden (not verified) on 18 May 2008 #permalink

The Spitzer warm mission concept was to support a smaller number of very large surveys but to also have normal guest observer proposals. The way the hours would be divided up between large projects and GO proposals would put the bulk of the time into the very large projects. See, which is linked from the SSC homepage (it would be nice if the senior review were so directly available). It was recognized that the current TAC process would have to be streamlined to reduce the time and costs involved.

I have several copies of the pdf now...

XMM will let anyone propose, but it looks like only ESA members will get funding to actually do any data analysis, modulo ADP and such like.
Unless of course you go to one of those enlightened countries which just hand out block resources to do science and stuff...

Since the SR recommends some minimal funding for "below the line" missions, my understanding is that Spitzer can't get nominal funding for the Warm mission and may have to accept less than "minimal" funding levels. NASA HQ decision ultimately.
My bet is pre-scheduled legacy program, and some DDT to chase the last couple of planets, but no GO funding and underfunding for legacy teams - be a mess to shake out, but it is also just a guess.

Steinn, This is also discussed in New Scientist

Steinn: ESA does not hand out money to European astronomers if they get observing time, as the funding of the data analysis is the job of the funding agencies and not within the realm of ESA's responsibilities. Typically, one can apply for funding only after the observations have been approved, which can mean that the funding to analyze an observation will only arrive 6-8 months after the observation was performed. In some countries, there is a total disconnect between getting observations and getting funding for the data analysis (e.g., in the UK or in France). In that sense, should the US XMM-GO stop and US astronomers be thrown back to the ADP, they'd be in the same situation as the European astronomers are currently.

Overall, however, I hope that it won't come to this. There are several recommendations in the report that Chandra (by far the most expensive mission of the ones reviewed, and responsible for around half of the total expenses covered by the review) be slight cut and that Spitzer cuts back as well to the level you describe in your last post. If this is the case I would expect that the funding would be sufficient to include an XMM GO (and hopefully also some INTEGRAL GO money [speaking as a member of the INTEGRAL user's group here...]) at the "in guide" level. I believe that overall this strategy would be beneficial to US science since it would preserve the current diversity of available programs.

Folks, As XMM project scientist in the US I would like to hear from the community about their opinions on the Senior review recommendations for XMM. Our senior review proposal is public and available at
I was, obviously, very surprised, at the relative grade XMM received in the senior review since I believe XMM has given the US community excellent science for the money and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

Richard Mushotzky

By Richard Mushotzky (not verified) on 23 May 2008 #permalink