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NASA Responds to WFIRST Review

Friday, October 20, 2017 - 12:16

The independent review of the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) mission, currently in Phase A and managed by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, has been reviewed by NASA officials, who released their response yesterday in the form of a press release and a memo from the Associate Administrator of the Science Mission Directorate, Thomas Zurbuchen, to Chris Scolese, Goddard Center Director.

NASA announced in April a pause on some of the mission development activity to initiate the WFIRST Independent External Technical/Management/Cost Review (WIETR), in response to the National Academies recommendations following the 2013 Evaluation of WFIRST/AFTA in the Context of New Worlds, New Horizons In Astronomy and Astrophysics and the 2016 New Worlds, New Horizons: A Midterm Assessment reports. Both reports reaffirmed the scientific merit of the mission that was the top large-mission priority of the Astro2010 Decadal Survey, but recommended an independent and external review to consider the potential impact on NASA program balance and potential for cost/resource growth.

While the full report has not been publicly released, Zurbuchen's memo makes clear that the scientific merit of the mission remains high, while concerns about risk and scope remain. In response, he identifies the following constraints and changes to the WFIRST mission, which will return its cost estimate to $3.2 billion:

  1. The basic architecture of the mission, including the use of the existing 2.4m telescope, a widefield instrument, and a coronagraph instrument, shall be retained.
  2. The implementation of the mission risk classification shall be consistent with the findings of the WIETR report.
  3. Reductions shall be taken in the widefield instrument.
  4. The coronagraph instrument shall be treated as a technology demonstration instrument, consistent with the findings of the WIETR report; in addition, reductions shall be taken in the coronagraph instrument.
  5. The cost of science investigations shall be reduced.
  6. The additional use of commercial subsystems and components shall be considered for the spacecraft; however, serviceability for both the spacecraft and the payload will be retained.

The findings of the report will be discussed by Zurbuchen, the WIETR co-chairs Orlando Figueroa and Peter Michaelson, and the SMD division director for strategic integration and management, Dan Woods, at the National Academies' Committee on Astronomy and Astrophysics meeting next week in Irvine, California. The full meeting will span two days, 24-25 October, and the WIETR report will be discussed in the afternoon of Wednesday, 25 October. The full meeting agenda and remote access information are available online.

Ashlee N. Wilkins
John N. Bahcall Public Policy Fellow
American Astronomical Society (AAS)
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