Sunday, April 22, 2012

NASA Mission Continuations as of 2012

Let's catch up on some great news from earlier this month regarding mission funding. As a result of the 2012 NASA Senior Review of Astrophysics Missions, several ongoing missions are being continued, and at their current funding levels. The missions are as follows.

The Hubble Space Telescope (HST) continues at its current funding levels. HST is a space telescope that was carried into orbit by the Space Shuttle Discovery in April 1990. HST is a 2.4-meter (7.9 ft) aperture telescope in low Earth orbit, Hubble's four main instruments observe in the near ultraviolet, visible, and near infrared. The telescope is named after the astronomer Edwin Hubble. HST was built by NASA, with contributions from the European Space Agency (ESA), and is operated by the Space Telescope Science Institute. The HST is one of NASA's Great Observatories, along with the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory, the Chandra X-ray Observatory, and the Spitzer Space Telescope. The HST mission websites are: and and

The Guest Observer budget of the Chandra X-ray Observatory is increased to account for decreases in Fiscal year 2011. The Chandra X-ray Observatory is a satellite launched July 1999 by Space Shuttle Columbia. Chandra is named in honor of Indian physicist Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar who is known for determining the maximum mass for white dwarfs. "Chandra" also means "moon" or "luminous" in Sanskrit. Prior to launch, Chandra was known as AXAF, the Advanced X-ray Astrophysics Facility. Chandra was assembled and tested by TRW (now Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems) in Redondo Beach, California. Chandra is sensitive to X-ray sources 100 times fainter than any previous X-ray telescope, due primarily to the high angular resolution of the Chandra mirrors. The mission website is:

The Swift Gamma-Ray Burst Mission operations are extended through Fiscal year 2016 with funding for data analysis. Swift is a robotic spacecraft which was launched into orbit November 2004 on a Delta II rocket. Swift is managed by the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, and was developed by an international consortium from the United States, United Kingdom, and Italy. It is part of NASA's Medium Explorer Program (MIDEX). The mission websites are: and

The Kepler Mission operations are extended through Fiscal year 2016 with funding for data analysis. The purpose of the Kepler Mission is to discover Earth-like planets orbiting other stars. The spacecraft, named in honor of the 17th-century German astronomer Johannes Kepler, was launched March 2009 aboard at Delta II rocket. The mission had a planned lifetime of at least 3.5 years. Kepler is a project under NASA's Discovery Program of relatively low-cost, focused science missions. Construction and initial operation were managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, with Ball Aerospace responsible for developing the Kepler flight system. The Ames Research Center is responsible for the ground system development, mission operations (from December 2009), and science data analysis. The mission website is:

The Planck Mission will support one year extended operations of the Low Frequency Instrument (LFI). Launched from the Guiana Space Centre on May 2009 aboard an Ariane 5 ACE rocket, Planck is a space observatory of the European Space Agency (ESA) and designed to observe the anisotropies of the cosmic microwave background (CMB) over the entire sky, at a high sensitivity and angular resolution. Planck was built in the Cannes Mandelieu Space Center by Thales Alenia Space and created as the third Medium-Sized Mission (M3) of the European Space Agency's Horizon 2000 Scientific Programme. The project, initially called COBRAS/SAMBA, is named in honor of the German physicist Max Planck (1858–1947), who won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1918. Planck orbits at the Earth/Sun's L2 Lagrangian point. The mission websites are: and

The Spitzer Space Telescope (SST) operations are extended through Fiscal year 2014 with closeout planned for Fiscal year 2015. Launched August 2003 aboard a Delta II rocket, Spitzer was formerly the Space Infrared Telescope Facility (SIRTF). It is an infrared space observatory, the fourth and final of the NASA Great Observatories program. The observatory was renamed in honor of Lyman Spitzer, one of the 20th century's great scientists. The mission website is:

U.S. science support of the Suzaku mission is extended to March 2015, to provide a one-year overlap with the Astro-H mission. Launched July 2005 from Uchinoura Space Center aboard a M-V-6 rocket, Suzaku (formerly ASTRO-EII) is a Japanese X-ray astronomy satellite. The project was renamed Suzaku after the mythical Vermilion bird of the South. The English version of the mission website is:

Funding for U.S. support of the XMM-Newton mission is also extended through March 2015. Launched by the European Space Agency (ESA) December 1999 aboard an Arian 5 rocket, The X-ray Multi-Mirror Mission - Newton (XMM-Newton) is named in honor of Sir Isaac Newton. Originally known as the High Throughput X-ray Spectroscopy Mission it is in a very eccentric 48 hour elliptical orbit. Observations are managed and archived at the European Space Astronomy Centre (formerly known as VILSPA) at Villafranca, Spain. The data are processed at the XMM-Newton Survey Science Centre at the University of Leicester, England. The European satellite XMM-Newton (X-ray Multi Mirror), built under contract to ESA by a consortium of 35 European companies with Astrium as prime contractor, by far excels its predecessor, the Astrium-built ROSAT satellite. The mission websites are: and

The Fermi Gamma-Ray Space Telescope mission operations are extended through Fiscal year 2016, but with a 10 percent per year reduction starting in Fiscal year 2014. Formerly referred to as the Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope (GLAST), Fermi is a space observatory being used to perform gamma-ray astronomy observations from low Earth orbit. Its main instrument is the Large Area Telescope (LAT), with which astronomers mostly intend to perform an all-sky survey studying astrophysical and cosmological phenomena such as active galactic nuclei, pulsars, other high-energy sources and dark matter. Another instrument aboard Fermi, the Gamma-ray Burst Monitor (GBM; formerly GLAST Burst Monitor), is being used to study gamma-ray bursts. Fermi was launched June 2008 aboard a Delta II rocket. The mission is a joint venture of NASA, the United States Department of Energy, and government agencies in France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and Sweden. The mission website is:

For the business illiterate (and I mean no offence), I offer this explanation on the referenced accounting concept of the fiscal year. The schedule of NASA’s annual funding is based on the U.S. government’s fiscal year, which ends on the 30th of September of the noted fiscal year (and begins on October 1 of the prior calendar year). For example, fiscal year 2012 ends on September 30, 2012, so any U.S. funding which goes through fiscal year 2012 would end on September 30. I hope you get the idea and can extrapolate from there regarding the other fiscal years.

In addition, I must note that while some of these mentioned continuations go through fiscal year 2016, all of the decisions for fiscal year 2015 to 2016 are for planning purposes and will be officially revisited in the 2014 NASA Senior Review.

Finally, I should note that three of the referenced missions are affiliated with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. They are the Kepler Mission, the Spitzer Space Telescope and the U.S. portion of the European Space Agency's Planck mission.

To read in full detail of the 2012 NASA Senior Review report, follow this link:


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