NASA: wiping the slate clean

IXO and LISA are dead and disbanded as NASA missions.
We are looking at a very thin pipeline and few new missions for a while, unless there is drastic new direction from above and strong guidance on funding.

NASA is a mission oriented agency.
This is especially true of Astrophysics.

At any given time, there are operating missions, missions in development, and planned future missions, each at various stages of effort.
Each mission successfully launched has a nominal operating lifetime, after which it may be considered for an "extended mission", if possible.
NASA tends to have catastrophic successes, if the missions succeed at all, in that missions often operate way beyond their nominal lifetime, and if extended require continued Mission Operation and Data Analysis (MODA) funding.
This is cumulative, and gets expensive, even with marginal cost savings in later years.
On the other hand, shutting down a functioning mission seems kinda wasteful...

Operating missions are periodically reviews through the Senior Review process, most recently done in 2010.

    Operating astrophysics missions reviewed
  • Planck - cosmic microwave background - European
  • Chandra - x-rays
  • Warm Spitzer - infra-red - ran out of cryogen
  • Swift - γ-ray/x-ray/optical
  • XMM-Newton - European x-ray
  • WMAP - cosmic microwave background
  • Suzaku - x-ray Japanese
  • GALEX - ultra-violet
  • RXTE - x-ray timing
  • INTEGRAL - γ-ray - European
  • Warm WISE - infra-red - ran out of cryogen

Recently, WISE, RXTE, GALEX got shutdown orders.
WMAP stopped taking data in 2010 but has 2 years for continued analysis.
NASA contributions to XMM, INTEGRAL and Suzaku are stopping.

Swift is taking a huge cut to MODA.
Chandra will take a small cut, and Planck will continue to receive a small NASA buy in

Operating missions are:

  • Hubble - through 2014
  • Fermi - γ-ray - through 2013
  • Kepler - exoplanet transit - through 2012
  • Herschel - infra-red - European

Er, that's it.
Fermi and Kepler may be extended.
Hubble has a finite lifetime - depends on solar activity, more active the Sun, the hotter the upper atmosphere of the Earth and higher drag, the shorter the lifetime.
Sun is currently quiet, too quiet.
Hubble also has finite life expectancy for gyros, power and electronics.

In development are:

  • NuSTAR - high energy x-ray, near flight
  • GEMS - x-ray polarimetry, going into readiness review
  • Astro-H - x-ray Japanese
  • JWST - large infra-red
  • ST7 - small technology demonstrator, European

There are also some ground bases telescope project buyins,
and Sofia - an infra-red telescope on an aircraft.

In the development pipeline are:

  • IXO - large x-ray observatory, in collaboration with Europe
  • LISA - large space based gravitational radiation observatory, in collaboration with Europe
  • SNAP JDEM W-FIRST - large infra-red telescope with dual goals to measure dark energy/large scale structure, and find exoplanets through microlensing - top ranked by the recent decadal survey
  • JWST - the Next Generation Space Telescope, infra-red large telescope
  • TPF - exoplanet imager/spectroscope - large telescope
  • Explorer mission To Be Named Later (small mission) - maybe more than one...

TPF was pushed to the back of the line for various reasons and is currently very much a concept rather than a mission, but chasing very hot science

JWST is a budget disaster, way over budget and late.
JWST has been taken out of the Astrophysics division, with its notional budget, and stuck out there as a separate line item. It has a strictly pro forma budget in NASA's plans, and Congress needs to make a decision on whether to ramp up its funding, delay it or cut it completely.
It is hung out there as an awfully tempting ~ $2G chunk that would make a high profile target for would be target cutters.

W-FIRST is the notional priority, based on the decadal recommendation for rescoping the pre-existing JDEM (Joint Dark Energy Mission - joint with DoE) mission concept.
W-FIRST is a concept right now, not a spec'd mission.
JDEM had jumped previous mission priorities in a mid-decade review, last decade, but languished since.

IXO is a rebranding of the long wished for next large x-ray observatory. Previously Con-X.

LISA has been a mission concept for 14+ years. For much of that time, ESA has been under the impression that it is an approved mission with a target launch date, and a formal memorandum of understanding to that effect.
NASA, not so much.

Anyway: so now Astrophysics division has formally deleted LISA and IXO from the development queue.

That means science teams go home, development stops, done.

W-FIRST has no funding wedge - JWST and HST operations eat all the money.
So even though it is a priority, there is no devlopment ramp up and no launch date.
Everything now waits on JWST.

Europe, ESA, is taking its ball home and rethinking its own priority list for large missions.
They tend to take the "turtle" approach, and will continue on their way, and hopefully launch something.

NASA has to
a) wait to hear what budget they have and when
b) completely reprioritize everything in Astrophysics.
Possibly literally everything, if JWST gets deleted by Congress, which is a definite possibility.

So, whole careers are thrown out the window, there are people who spent 10-20 years on the mission development - there is also very little left in the NASA pipeline, there could be just 1-2 operating missions by 2015, and a gap of several years before anything flies, depending on the budget they get, failure of current missions and developing missions keeping to their timeline.
A lot of scientists are supported by the MODA funding of these missions, and a lot of that is looking to go away.

On the other hand, NASA will, hopefully, have some Astrophysics funding, and hopefully something will fly eventually, or be extendable and extended...

The Committee on Astrophysics and Astronomy (NRC) will be set up again, maybe with some fresh blood, and new concepts and priorities will be evaluated.
There are clearly opportunities in this crisis, as is often the case.

Short term, this will be very very painful.
Medium term, there is very high uncertainty with some opportunities.
Long term, hard to predict...

PS: Of course there IS a solution...

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I must second Sean's comment. Got any link, statement, PR, etc?

As an X-ray astronomy grad, I'm quite concerned. And scared.

By François Dufour (not verified) on 06 Apr 2011 #permalink

Sean, I haven't seen anything of this sort yet. We (members of the LISA Science Team) got an email from Tom Prince yesterday giving us the rundown on the meeting he had with headquarters. It is exactly as Stein described it: LISA and IXO are no longer NASA projects. Thanks for your service, the Science Team shall be disbanded shortly.

Gawd, it hadn't even occurred to me that putting JWST out there as a line item had such a sinister possible overtones ... "Yeah, why don't you go stand over there. Wear this giant target while you're at it."

Jon Morse was at GSFC yesterday meeting with the LISA and IXO folks to tell them that the projects were shutting down. As Stein said, the European sections of both teams are going their own way although there will be a NASA observer for Euro-LISA and Euro-IXO. I think it will be relatively easy for the X-ray folks to come up with an ESA-only mission. LISA is tougher to downsize although there are ideas being tested.

On an entirely different subject: note that if the Federal government shuts down at the end of the week then as far as I know at present all NASA e-mail and websites will go dark. Plan accordingly.

Well, you can bet Sen. Mikulski wouldn't like JWST to be cut, and I wonder if they're hanging it out there like juicy bait for an unwary Tea Party congresscritter to snap up and get public blowback. But that would be if people think the public understands that JWST would be like an IR Hubble.

In all this discussion of where all the money has gone and is going over the next N years, while JWST is always mentioned, Sofia rarely is, and that is not really fair. Especially when you look at science return.

So far as I can tell JWST isn't late because of technical problems, but because they didn't spend the money it was really going to cost, so it winds up being slower and more expensive (because we keep paying more people for longer).

Ben: I think that mentioning JWST and Sofia in the same sentence in cost overruns is not done because Sofia's cost overruns are nothing compared to JWST.

Steinn: Good summary of the current situation at NASA, and much more honest than Matt Mountain's recent JWST apology in the STScI newsletter, which shows that he has no understanding that astronomy as a science needs diversity (no, astro is not just cosmology and planets, or only optical...).

I think this situation really illustrates how the current decadal completely backfired on the community and therefore caused tremendous damage. In the space sector, the decadal invented a mission (WFIRST) that's first of all in direct competition to a much cheaper and funded european mission (Euclid) and that also targets the same community that will also be users of JWST. If we had infinite budgets, this would be fine, but what has now happened as a result of the cost overruns is that whole scientific communities in the USA will be significantly decimated. By pushing for WFIRST, the decadal has effectively endorsed this decimation and completely ignored that good science also needs diversity. Now, one could argue that somehow from the composition of the panels this was the will of the American astronomers (not those I talked to), but it definitively wasn't in Europe and the decision by NASA to end the LISA and ESA studies also has now pretty much pushed all European space people back to the drawing boards. I really hope that the 2010 decadal was the last of its kind and that any future reviews take the fact that science in the 21st century is international more serious...

What's even more annoying with all of the cuts at NASA is that compared to JWSTs cost overruns, running RXTE and Swift or contributing to Suzaku, XMM-Newton or INTEGRAL costs next to nothing, while the loss of support through these missions for US astronomy is significant. This means that the field gets hurt effectively for nothing - if one looks, e.g., at publication statistics (e.g., Virginia Trimble's new paper at, these missions deliver significant numbers of papers per dollar spent on them and in this metric are much more cost effective than, say, HST (just dividing mission cost by number of papers published, the typical HST paper costs 5-10 times more than papers from these missions).

By hde226868 (not verified) on 06 Apr 2011 #permalink

Hde26....whatever, its stupid to blame the astro2010 decadal. The 2000 decadal maybe deserves some criticism for not realizing jwst's claimed cost was absurd, or failing to specify missions should be reprioritorized if they overran too much in cost.

The writing for" niche" wavelength astrophysics has been on the wall for years now... no big observatories, only smaller missions with small amounts of GO funding if you're lucky.

Glad I left when I did.

On your list, I'm very sure that ST7 is long gone...maybe you meant LPF.

Steinn, you missed some other ngoing/planned missions? Can you or anyone else remind us of their status?



PAMELA is Italian.

AMS is an ISS based experiment, it is on the Shuttle Endeavour, currently on the pad waiting for final launch

AGILE is also Italian

LATOR is an experiment concept for the ISS, not funded last I heard

GAIA is all ESA, due to launch in 2012 and looking good last I heard.

I am not extremely knowledgeable on this, but here's what I do know:

PAMELA and AGILE are Italian (with other various participants, like Russia, Germany, etc.), and going on. Gaia is a European mission, as far as I know in late development, to be launched 2012 (? I am quite sure we'd have seen some nice spacecraft photos by now if that were true).

AMS-02 is waiting for launch on STS-134. I have no idea what's up with LATOR (does it even exist any more?).

By François Dufour (not verified) on 06 Apr 2011 #permalink

@steinn: True, but that ST7 is not even really a shadow of its pre-descope self. That just makes the picture even sadder.

WFIRST wasn't invented, it is a new acronym for JDEM plus a microlensing mission. Those already existed. You can argue that the decadal survey should not have put JDEM ahead of LISA and/or IXO, but that is a question both of science and technological readiness which is what the decadal survey is charged to prioritize. It wasn't just intra-disciplinary politics.

The 2012 budget reqeuest has Sofia operating at $75M/year for 2012-2016 and Hubble at $90M/year. This is after Sofia construction which is I think of order $1B. see page 15. That's less than the JWST allocation but much more than a lot of missions that people are squawking about the cancellation of, so it can't be written off as negligible.

@Ben - no, have to disagree with you on that one.
JDEM was a development mission with three competing concepts, one of which had a graded high TRL and DoE backing.
W-FIRST changes the waveband, optics, mirror, detectors and adds science goals - there is no mission concept, it is a hack of a powerpoint presentation no one else had seen.

Sofia is bloody expensive and still not producing. But, it is also a bilateral mission - if NASA wants to walk out on partners it needs to write termination clauses into the memoranda - yeah, I know, they are completely vulnerable to Congress which will no accept such agreements as binding as Congress can't be obligated.

What I wanted to know was how much longer are AGILE/PAMELA are slated to run?
Also there is EROSITA

So NASA is stabbing ESA in the back, once again. When I was more active in aerospace engineering in the 90's, there was still lots of bad feeling in Europe about the Ulysses mission.

I'm not blaming American scientists. The problem is the political structure behind NASA. ESA tries to commit funding for the duration of each mission, but NASA only gets money annually, and each time politicians put their hands in the pork barrel. In these antiscience times the Rethugligans are willing to fund only the search of the Jerusalem star.

By Lassi Hippeläinen (not verified) on 06 Apr 2011 #permalink

Just want to clear a few things up about the NASA/ESA relationship with regards to LISA and IXO (and Laplace, which was the third L1 candidate mission in Europe). Formally, NASA's actions were in response to those of ESA, which decided to suspend their L1 study of LISA, IXO, and Laplace because they recognized that NASA wasn't going to be able to pay for their share. It was ESA that notified NASA that they were going it alone and not the other way around. I don't necessarily blame them given that they supposedly have a chunk of money to spend in 2015 and it would look pretty stupid if they have to give it back because NASA's not ready to participate. Also, there are still people at NASA working on gravitational wave detectors and future x-ray instruments, they haven't all been fired or reassigned...yet.

We cannot have it both ways. We can't acquiesce to the 20% European partner in Sofia chaining NASA to spending 80% of the costs on a mission that thus cannot be killed no matter whether it ever produces science, and then turn around and complain that NASA is cutting ESA's throat by cutting NASA contributions to ongoing missions and future mission studies.

Of course grounding the mission wouldn't free up enough money to pay for IXO. But we can't all of a sudden wake up and say that now that our favorite missions are being chopped, it's time to make decisions based purely on science and not on international space-agency politics. That ship sailed a long time ago.

@Ben - But we can complain when the 2010 Decadal says that going forward our priority must be international cooperation, and as a demonstration of that we will cobble together WFIRST in direct competition with Euclid, and place IXO, which actually has an established international community, in 4th. And we'll place it 4th by not waiting for the more detailed European cost estimate, but by using the highballed US cost estimate. And yeah, Sofia is expensive and hasn't produced anything yet. But JWST is a factor of 3 times their initial budget! Let's call a spade a spade. JWST lied in the 2000 Decadal Report about their cost. And we were all "shocked to find gambling going on here"! A sane 2010 Decadal would have said money is tight, budgets are uncertain, so let's make sure we maintain at least a minimum level of new development and place small missions first. Creating WFIRST without a funding line, and effectively killing off an international collaboration - in large part based on a perceived lack of ability to pay for it - shows just how schizophrenic the decadal really was.

Many of the comments here don't seem to have the right perspective. IXO and LISA as a mission this decade died the day the Decadal survey was announced. Priorities 3 & 4 this expensive were clearly not possible - and thus technology development money only was recommended. Europe made a reasonable decision given there planned spending for this Decade. They want a mission that will be mostly European (up to 20% foreign participation) and not dependent on unlikely contributions from foreign agencies. The new European slimmed down x-ray observatory is called Athena. In the US, the IXO mission concept will remain for technology development, even if the I in IXO is no longer valid. Perhaps it should return to the name Con-X. The LISA European team has cut links to their US colleagues for now - I guess until it fails to win the new L1 run-off (I can't see it winning without the demo technology pathfinder having flown). My guess is that once the confines of the required profile for the next European L1 slot are removed, about a year form now, normal Euro-US relations on LISA will return. The likely winner of the L1 run-off is Laplace - the European instrument already fits the required budget profile, even if the science is now far less compelling without the complimentary (much larger) US instrument. My guess is that IXO in some form will also return again after the L1 decision, ready for the next Decadal survey. Although Laplace is my favorite - I wouldn't rule rule out the choice of none of the missions from these 3 - as the science cases of all three will now be severely compromised.

And to those who think the US side have let down the European X-ray community - keep dreaming. It was Europe that insisted on the required level of angular resolution for IXO that caused the TRL to appear so low, and the estimated cost so high. Since they forced this, the US X-ray astronomy community were left with something that could not win, while Europe now heads back with their new mission requirements for Athena that look much more like what the US wanted, and which ironically might well have won the US Decadal survey.

By Trying to get … (not verified) on 07 Apr 2011 #permalink

Steinn's last comment seems spot on. Short term this is really bad, especially if you're a US instrumentalist who was hoping to build a piece of IXO (without tenure, make that really really bad). It's also bad news to anyone who thought that the now cancelled ESA down-select would go in favor of LISA - even prior to Pathfinder - or anyone thinking that NASA would put serious $$$ toward IXO given its ranking in the Decadal. But I doubt many people thought either of those things. Longer term, the science case for LISA - or something like LISA - is still there, and a descoped ESA-only IXO seems a more genuine possibility than the original had gotten to be. As long, of course, that there is some new money somewhere...

What about EJSM then? Does this mean that it's getting funded (one of the three IXO/LISA/EJSM was going to be) or it's also cancelled?

JWST deserves to be cut. The project is over budget and is technically way too difficult to be accomplished. Whoever said that it wasn't in technical trouble doesn't know the half of it...they have just been delaying the most difficult critical systems-level tests to make the situation look better. Heck, the spacecraft hasn't even had its preliminary design review yet. Nor have they even begun the most difficult part of all: systems integration & test. The "fun" hasn't even begun for JWST yet. They should chop it down and descope it radically. That's what the rest of us have to do when our missions get in trouble.

By space_worker (not verified) on 10 Apr 2011 #permalink

JWST's instruments are rather too far along to save money by descoping. You would wind up spending more on redesign. Congress and NASA agreed to build JWST for $N million which was about half of what it would practically cost (I do blame Congress and NASA, not just the JWST office, because they effectively mandated an unrealistic estimate). JWST's problem appears to be that to keep the cost per year down, they didn't spend enough money to get things done expeditiously, which means it costs more in the long run because you have to keep paying people to do things that are taking a long time.

I like IXO, but the costs for it are by any measure stratospheric and unlikely to do anything but rise. The basic facts of NASA funding are dominated by two items: the enormous cost overruns and expenses for JWST and the very limited budget prospects.

IXO would not have happened even if endorsed as the top priority. WFIRST has a chance, because it's cheaper, but I honestly doubt if it will do more than tread water until JWST is resolved. And Euclid is not approved - it is in a competition with a planet transit/ asteroseismology mission (PLATO) and a solar orbiter for two slots from ESA.

By Marc Pinsonneault (not verified) on 12 Apr 2011 #permalink

Re #28: JWST as a whole passed a "critical design review" in April 2010 (from a release linked from the STScI JWST site). The spacecraft passed a PDR in spring 2009, the other components have as well.

I don't intend to be a one-note defender of JWST as mega projects that eat astronomy budgets are not my favorite thing. But it is important to get the facts right when criticizing it.

The recent review panel report said: "The problems causing cost growth and schedule delays on the JWST Project are associated with budgeting and program management, not technical performance. The technical performance on the Project has been commendable and often excellent. However, the budget baseline accepted at the Confirmation Review did not reflect the most probable cost with adequate reserves in each year of project execution. This resulted in a project that was simply not executable within the budgeted resources."

Correcting errors in #28 re JWST. As Ben correctly points out in #32, the JWST mission passed its critical design review in Apr 2010. As of 3/2011, 74% of the dry mass of JWST has passed CDRs at the system level, and is approved to be fabricated. 23% of the dry mass of JWST is built and done. 11 of the 18 primary mirrors have been polished; 9 are gold coated and in final test.

True, the spacecraft subsystem of JWST has not had CDR yet. In this context "the spacecraft" has a very specific meaning: the systems common to any satellite (solar panel, battery, fuel tank, antennas, thrusters, etc.) Work on the spacecraft subsystem has been deliberately deferred, so that resources can instead be spent to reduce risk on technically more challenging parts of JWST.

Integration and test necessarily must follow delivery of the science instruments. All four flight instruments will be finished within the next year.

By Jane Rigby (not verified) on 15 Apr 2011 #permalink

At present, we in the astronomy community should not waste energy debating (without access to relevant facts) whether JWST should be cancelled. Instead, we should all admit that cancellation is a LEGITIMATE QUESTION to ask when any project of this scope suffers an overrun/delay of this magnitude. So far, NASA seems completely uninterested in asking this question.

Yes, the decadal report "endorsed" JWST---on the assumption that the opportunity cost incurred was represented by the project budget stated at the time. Surely, we should not assume that the members of the decadal group feel that JWST should continue at *any* cost---there has to be a limit somewhere. Why are we as a community unwilling to ponder this question?

By Patrick Broos (not verified) on 04 May 2011 #permalink