Message from NASA Astrophysics Division Director, January 2016

By Paul Hertz, Director, NASA Astrophysics Division

January 2016

The Astrophysics Division is preparing to execute a rich portfolio of activities in the new year, as I described during the NASA Town Hall at the 227th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Kissimmee, Florida. The fiscal year (FY) 2016 appropriation provides funding for NASA astrophysics to continue its programs, missions, projects, and supporting research and technology; the operating missions continue to generate important and compelling science results, and new missions are under development for the future; and progress is being made toward recommendations of the 2010 Decadal Survey.

  • The National Academies has formed an ad hoc committee, chaired by Dr. Jacqueline Hewitt, to conduct a “review of progress” toward the Decadal Survey Vision in New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics. The committee has held three meetings so far. Details, including my presentations, may be found at http://sites.nationalacademies.org/SSB/CurrentProjects/SSB_161177.

  • NASA Research and Analysis (R&A) funding continues to grow. NASA also funds the community through the mission Guest Observer (GO) programs. In 2015, NASA received approximately 3,750 proposals for R&A or GO funding. The selection rate in 2015 was 24 percent for R&A proposals and 28 percent and for GO proposals. One hundred percent of the 2015 selections were announced within 155 days or proposal submission. This year, in addition to the regular research opportunities solicited through the Research Opportunities in Space and Earth Science (ROSES) NASA Research Announcement and mission GO programs, a fall 2016 release date is targeted for a Medium-class Explorer (MIDEX) solicitation (http://explorers.larc.nasa.gov/APMIDEX2016/). Note that there are changes in ROSES regarding public access to Federal research. Please read ROSES-2016 carefully, and consult the FAQs at http://science.nasa.gov/researchers/sara/faqs/dmp-faq-roses/.

  • JWST continues to make technical progress during its integration and test phase according to its plan. The Telescope Structure has been completed and shipped to Goddard Space Flight Center for integration of the mirrors; the second Telescope Pathfinder test at Johnson Space Center is complete; the Spacecraft Bus Structure has been delivered for integration and testing at the prime contractor’s facility in California. Mirror installation into the Telescope Structure was completed in January 2016 and can be observed on the WebbCam at http://jwst.nasa.gov/. Plans for 2016 include completion of cryovacuum testing of the Integrated Science Instrument Module including all four instruments, installation of the Integrated Science Instrument Module into the Telescope Structure, secondary mirror installation, and completion of fabrication of the Flight Sunshield membranes. JWST remains on cost and on schedule for an October 2018 launch.

  • The Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) starts formulation in February 2016 when it passes its review by the NASA Agency Program Management Council. In December 2015, the mission completed its Mission Concept Review, all of the technology development milestones for the two instruments were achieved on schedule, and the Formulation Science Working Group and Science Investigation Teams were selected following a peer review of competitive proposals. In 2016, the Science Working Group will develop the WFIRST science requirements, the mission concept will be matured, and technology development for the widefield instrument and the coronagraph instrument will be further advanced to TRL-5.

  • NASA intends to partner with the European Space Agency (ESA) on the ESA-led Large 3 (L3) gravitational wave mission with launch in 2034. This responds to the recommendations of the 2010 Astrophysics Decadal for a space-based gravitational wave observatory. Following the successful launch of the LISA Path Finder, NASA has formed an L3 Study Team (L3ST) drawing membership from the U.S. astrophysics community. The L3ST Charter and list of selected members can be found at http://pcos.gsfc.nasa.gov/studies.

  • The Japanese X-ray observatory ASTRO-H, including NASA provided elements of the Soft X-ray Spectrometer and the Soft X-ray Telescope, is scheduled to launch in February 2016 (https://heasarc.gsfc.nasa.gov/docs/astroh/). The ASTRO-H Cycle 1 GO call is planned for April 2016.

  • NASA is developing two astrophysics experiments for launch to the International Space Station. The Cosmic Ray Energetics and Mass for the ISS (ISS-CREAM) (http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/1114.html) experiment was delivered to Kennedy Space Center in August 2015; it is awaiting a ride to the Space Station on the Commercial Resupply Service SpaceX-12 launch, planned for spring 2017. The Neutron star Interior and Composition Explorer (NICER) (https://heasarc.gsfc.nasa.gov/docs/nicer/) has entered its final integration and test phase; NICER will be completed by late summer 2016 and will await its ride to the Space Station on CRS SpaceX-11, planned for winter 2017.

  • The restructuring of the Science Mission Directorate’s education program is nearing completion. Of the 73 compliant proposals submitted to the Science Education Cooperative Agreement Notice solicitation last year, 27 have been selected for execution. Fifteen of these include Astrophysics content (three of them are exclusively Astrophysics). A meeting of the principal investigators was held in Westlake, Texas, January 19-21, 2016, to form additional partnerships to leverage off each other’s strengths. 

  • Preparations for the 2020 Decadal Survey are well under way. The three Astrophysics Program Analysis Group reports on large mission concepts were presented to the Astrophysics Subcommittee in October 2015 and are available at http://cor.gsfc.nasa.gov/copag/rfi/. NASA is initiating community-led studies of four large mission concepts by chartering Science and Technology Definition Teams for each of the four mission concepts. The charter and management plan for these mission concept activities are available at http://science.nasa.gov/astrophysics/2020-decadal-survey-planning/.

My entire Town Hall Presentation from the January AAS meeting, is available at http://science.nasa.gov/astrophysics/documents/.

Paul Hertz
Director, Astrophysics Division
NASA Science Mission Directorate

Share This Page