NASA’s WFIRST Space Telescope Witness Funding Issues

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An astrophysics mission from NASA, which avoided termination last year, might still witness budget issues if it escapes another termination risk this year, as warned by the agency officials this week.

NASA’s fiscal year 2020 budget request does not include funding for the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), the next big tactical, or flagship, astrophysics mission for the organization after the James Webb Space Telescope. NASA, in its request, proclaimed that it recommended canceling the mission due to “its significant expenditure and superior priorities within NASA, including completing the postponed James Webb Space Telescope.” In the recent astrophysics decadal survey published in 2010, WFIRST was the top-ranked flagship mission. The spacecraft, with a 2.4-meter key mirror offered to NASA by the National Reconnaissance Office, is intended to perform research on various aspects ranging from dark matter and dark energy to exoplanets. The mission, presently cost-capped at $3.2 Billion, is planned to be launched in 2025.

On a similar note, a team of engineers came into the news as they disclosed that they have created and tested a radically novel type of airplane wing. Reportedly, this wing is assembled from hundreds of small identical pieces. It holds an ability to change shape to run the plane’s flight and might offer a key boost in aircraft production, flight, and maintenance efficiency, as disclosed by the researchers.

The latest approach to wing construction might give greater flexibility in the design and production of potential aircraft. The novel wing design was trialed in a NASA wind tunnel and can be accessed in the journal Smart Materials and Structures. This study is co-authored by Nicholas Cramer, Research Engineer, NASA Ames, California; Benjamin Jenett, a graduate student in MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms; MIT alumnus Kenneth Cheung SM ’07 Ph.D. ’12, now at NASA Ames; and eight others.

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