Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  (Redirected from WFIRST)
Jump to: navigation, search
Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope
3D image of WFIRST spacraft
Rendered model of the WFIRST spacecraft
Names Joint Dark Energy Mission
Mission type Infrared Space observatory
Operator NASA / JPL / GSFC
Website wfirst.gsfc.nasa.gov
Mission duration 6 years (planned)[1]
Spacecraft properties
Launch mass 4,166 kg (9,184 lb)[2]
Dry mass 4,059 kg (8,949 lb)[2]
Payload mass 2,191 kg (4,830 lb)[2]
Power 2500 watts
Start of mission
Launch date Mid-2020s
Rocket Delta IV Heavy (proposed)[2]
Contractor United Launch Alliance (proposed)
Orbital parameters
Reference system Sun–Earth L2
Regime Halo orbit
Periapsis 188,420 km (117,080 mi)
Apoapsis 806,756 km (501,295 mi)
Main telescope
Type Three-mirror anastigmat
Diameter 2.4 m (7 ft 10 in)
Wavelengths Near-infrared, visible light
Band S band (TT&C support)
Ka band (data acquisition)
Bandwidth Few kbit/s duplex (S band)
290 Mbit/s (Ka band)
Coronagraph Instrument
Wide Field Instrument
This visualization follows the WFIRST telescope on its trajectory to the Sun-Earth Lagrange Two point.

The Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) is a NASA infrared space observatory that was recommended in 2010 by United States National Research Council Decadal Survey committee as the top priority for the next decade of astronomy. On February 17, 2016, WFIRST was formally designated as a mission by NASA.[3]

WFIRST is based on an existing 2.4m wide field-of-view telescope and will carry two scientific instruments. The Wide-Field Instrument is a 288-megapixel multi-band near-infrared camera, providing a sharpness of images comparable to that achieved by the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) over a 0.28 square degree field of view, 100 times that of the HST. The Coronagraphic Instrument is a high-contrast, small field-of-view camera and spectrometer covering visible and near-infrared wavelengths using novel starlight-suppression technology.

The design of WFIRST is based on one of the proposed designs for the Joint Dark Energy Mission between NASA and DOE. WFIRST adds some extra capabilities to the original JDEM proposal, including a search for extra-solar planets using gravitational microlensing.[4] In its present incarnation (2015),[5] a large fraction of its primary mission will be focused on probing the expansion history of the Universe and the growth of cosmic structure with multiple methods in overlapping redshift ranges, with the goal of precisely measuring the effects of dark energy,[6] the consistency of general relativity, and the curvature of spacetime.

On February 12, 2018, the WFIRST mission was proposed to be terminated in the President's FY19 budget request, due to a reduction in the overall NASA astrophysics budget and higher priorities elsewhere in the agency.[7][8][9]


The original design of WFIRST (Design Reference Mission 1), studied in 2011–2012, featured a 1.3 m (4 ft 3 in) diameter unobstructed three-mirror anastigmat telescope.[10] It contained a single instrument, a visible to near-infrared imager/slitless prism spectrometer. In 2012, another possibility emerged: NASA could use a second-hand National Reconnaissance Office telescope made by Harris Corporation to accomplish a mission like the one planned for WFIRST. NRO offered to donate two telescopes, the same size as the Hubble Space Telescope but with a shorter focal length and hence a wider field of view.[11] This provided important political momentum to the project, even though the telescope represents only a modest fraction of the cost of the mission and the boundary conditions from the NRO design may push the total cost over that of a fresh design. This mission concept, called WFIRST-AFTA (Astrophysics Focused Telescope Assets), was matured by a scientific and technical team;[12] this mission is now the only present NASA plan for the use of the NRO telescopes.[13] The WFIRST baseline design includes a coronagraph to enable the direct imaging of exoplanets.[14]

WFIRST has had a number of different implementations studied (including the Joint Dark Energy Mission-Omega configuration, an Interim Design Reference Mission featuring a 1.3m telescope,[15] Design Reference Mission 1[16] with a 1.3m telescope, Design Reference Mission 2,[17] with a 1.1m telescope, and several iterations of the AFTA 2.4m configuration). In the most recent report,[5] WFIRST was considered for both geosynchronous and L2 orbits. Appendix C documents the disadvantage of L2 vs. geosynchronous in the data rate and propellant, but the advantages for improved observing constraints, better thermal stability, and more benign radiation environment at L2. Some science cases (such as exoplanet microlensing parallax) are improved at L2, and the possibility of robotic servicing at either of the locations requires further study.

The project is led by a team at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. The Project Scientist for WFIRST is Neil Gehrels; the Project Manager is Kevin Grady; the Program Scientist is Dominic Benford; the Program Executive is John Gagosian; the Formulation Science Working Group is chaired by Gehrels with Deputy Chairs David Spergel and Jeremy Kasdin.[18]

Science objectives[edit]

The science objectives of WFIRST aim to address cutting-edge questions in cosmology and exoplanet research, including:

  • Answering basic questions about dark energy, complementary to the ESA EUCLID mission, and including: Is cosmic acceleration caused by a new energy component or by the breakdown of general relativity on cosmological scales? If the cause is a new energy component, is its energy density constant in space and time, or has it evolved over the history of the universe? WFIRST will use three independent techniques to probe dark energy: baryon acoustic oscillations, observations of distant supernovae, weak gravitational lensing.
  • Completing a census of exoplanets to help answer new questions about the potential for life in the universe: How common are solar systems like our own? What kinds of planets exist in the cold, outer regions of planetary systems? – What determines the habitability of Earth-like worlds? This census makes use of a technique that can find exoplanets down to a mass only a few times that of the Moon: gravitational microlensing.
  • Establishing a guest investigator mode, enabling survey investigations to answer diverse questions about our galaxy and the universe.
  • Providing a coronagraph for exoplanet direct imaging that will provide the first direct images and spectra of planets around our nearest neighbors similar to our own giant planets.

WFIRST will have two instruments. The Wide-Field Instrument (WFI) is a 288-megapixel camera with a 0.28 square degree field of view providing multi-band near-infrared (0.7 to 2.0 micron) imaging using a HgCdTe focal-plane array with a pixel size of 110 milliarcseconds. It includes a grism for wide-field slitless spectroscopy and an integral field spectrograph for small-field spectroscopy. The second instrument is a high contrast coronagraph covering shorter wavelengths (0.4 to 1.0 micrometers) using novel starlight-suppression technology. It is intended to achieve a part-per-billion suppression of starlight to enable the detection of planets only 0.1 arcseconds away from their host stars.


Shawn Domagal-Goldman giving a presentation concerning WFIRST.

In fiscal year 2014, Congress provided $56 million for WFIRST, and in 2015 Congress provided $50 million.[19] The fiscal year 2016 spending bill provided $90 million for WFIRST, far above NASA's request of $14 million, allowing the mission to enter the "formulation phase" in February 2016.[19] On February 18, 2016, NASA announced that WFIRST had formally become a project (as opposed to a study), meaning that the agency intends to carry out the mission as baselined;[3] at that time, the "AFTA" portion of the name was dropped as only that approach is being pursued. WFIRST is on a plan for a mid-2020s launch. The total cost of WFIRST is expected at more than $2 billion;[20] NASA's latest estimate is around $2.0 billion in 2010 dollars, which corresponds to around $2.7 billion in real year (inflation-adjusted) dollars.[21] In April 2017, NASA commissioned an independent review of the project to ensure that the mission scope and cost were understood and aligned. [22] The review acknowledged that WFIRST offers "groundbreaking and unprecedented survey capabilities for dark energy, exoplanet, and general astrophysics", but directed the mission to "reduce cost and complexity sufficient to have a cost estimate consistent with the $3.2B cost target set at the beginning of Phase A." [23] NASA announced the reductions taken in response to this recommendation, and that WFIRST would proceed to its mission design review in February 2018 and begin Phase B by April 2018. [24]

The Trump administration's proposed FY2019 budget would terminate WFIRST, citing higher priorities within NASA and the increasing cost of this telescope.[7] The proposed cancellation of the project was met with criticism by professional astronomers, who noted that the American astronomical community had rated WFIRST the highest-priority space mission for the 2020s in the 2010 Decadal Survey.[8][9] The American Astronomical Society expressed "grave concern" about the proposed cancellation, and noted that the estimated lifecycle cost for WFIRST had not changed over the previous two years.[25]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "WFIRST Observatory". NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. 25 April 2014. Retrieved 2015-06-10. 
  2. ^ a b c d "WFIRST-AFTA Science Definition Team Final Report" (PDF). NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. 13 February 2015. Retrieved 2015-06-10. 
  3. ^ a b "NASA Introduces New, Wider Set of Eyes on the Universe" (Press release). 2016-02-18. Retrieved 2016-02-18. 
  4. ^ National Research Council (2010). New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics. Washington, D.C.: National Research Council. ISBN 0-309-15802-8. Retrieved 27 January 2011. 
  5. ^ a b "WFIRST Science Definition Team 2015 Report" (PDF). 2015-03-10. Retrieved 2016-02-23. 
  6. ^ WFIRST Wide-Field Infrared Telescope Home Page, http://wfirst.gsfc.nasa.gov/about/
  7. ^ a b "FY 2019 budget estimates" (PDF). 2018-02-12. Retrieved 2018-02-12. 
  8. ^ a b Cofield, Calla (13 February 2018). "What Would it Mean for Astronomers if the WFIRST Space Telescope is Killed?". Space.com. Retrieved 2018-02-13. 
  9. ^ a b Overbye, Dennis (19 February 2018). "Astronomers' Dark Energy Hopes Fade to Gray". The New York Times. Retrieved 19 February 2018. 
  10. ^ WFIRST Science Definition Team Final Report, 2012-08-15, arXiv:1208.4012Freely accessible, Bibcode:2012arXiv1208.4012G 
  11. ^ "Ex-Spy Telescope May Become a Space Investigator - NYTimes.com". 2012-06-04. Retrieved 2012-06-10. 
  12. ^ WFIRST-AFTA SDT Final Report, revision 1 (PDF), 2013-05-23, retrieved 2013-09-10 
  13. ^ Dan Leone (2013-06-04). "Only NASA Astrophysics Remains in Running for Donated NRO Telescope — For Now; SpaceNews article". Retrieved 2017-07-17. 
  14. ^ NASA (2014-04-30). "WFIRST Science Definition Team Interim Report" (PDF). Retrieved 2014-08-28. 
  15. ^ Green & Schechter (2011-07-11). "WFIRST IDRM" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-02-23. 
  16. ^ "WFIRST DRM1" (PDF). 2012-05-17. Retrieved 2016-02-23. 
  17. ^ Green & Schechter (2012-08-15). "WFIRST DRM2". arXiv:1208.4012Freely accessible. Bibcode:2012arXiv1208.4012G. 
  18. ^ Sullivan, John (2016-02-18). "Princeton professors to lead NASA science team probing universe and planets" (Press release). Princeton. Retrieved 2016-02-18. 
  19. ^ a b Foust, Jeff (7 January 2016). "NASA's Next Major Space Telescope Project Officially Starts in February". Space.com. Retrieved 2016-01-09. 
  20. ^ Daniel Clery (2016-02-19). "NASA moves ahead with its next space telescope". Science Magazine. Retrieved 2016-02-20. 
  21. ^ "NASA Astrophysics: Progress toward New Worlds, New Horizons, page 44" (PDF). NRC. 2015-10-08. Retrieved 2016-02-23. 
  22. ^ "NASA Taking a Fresh Look at Next Generation Space Telescope Plans". 2017-04-17. Retrieved 2017-10-19. 
  23. ^ "NASA Receives Findings from WFIRST Independent Review Team". 2017-10-19. Retrieved 2017-10-19. 
  24. ^ Jeff Foust (2018-01-09). "NASA plans to have WFIRST reviews complete by April". Space News. Retrieved 2018-01-11. 
  25. ^ Joel Parriott (2018-02-14). "American Astronomical Society Leaders Concerned with Proposed Cancellation of WFIRST". AAS. Retrieved 2018-02-21. 

External links[edit]