NASA has major plans for the mid 2020s. Their next project, the James Webb Space Telescope, is on track to meet it's deadline of 2018, and with that news NASA announced they are going to move forward with plans to launch a new wide field telescope.
The Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (the WFIRST) has passed a design review, which means the team of scientists and researchers can move forward with the project. Congress had pushed for the WFIRST to begin production faster than initially estimated, approving $90 million in funding for work to commence on the condition that it move forward in early 2016. The entire project is estimated to cost over two billion dollars. And if it brings the type of results NASA scientists anticipates, it will be worth every penny.
The telescope will be constructed from the remnants of a leftover spy satellite, and will be approximately the same size as Hubble. WFIRST will have a mirrored design, allowing it to view 100 times more than Hubble, but with the same depth and quality. WFIRST will be designed to provide insight into dark matter, dark energy, and to capture images of exoplanets (distant planets orbiting around other stars). It will also have a coronagraph, making it possible to examine distant planets for signs of life. Astronaut and associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington, John Grunsfeld, said that:
This mission uniquely combines the ability to discover and characterize planets beyond our own solar system with the sensitivity and optics to look wide and deep into the universe in a quest to unravel the mysteries of dark energy and dark matter.
NASA plans to map how the universe has expanded over time, through the measurement of thousands of supernovae. WFIRST will be capable of measuring the positions and distances of millions of galaxies, including galaxy clusters and the dark matter around them. WFIRST project scientist Neil Gehrels explained:
In addition to its exciting capabilities for dark energy and exoplanets, WFIRST will provide a treasure trove of exquisite date for all astronomers. This mission will survey the universe to find the most interesting objects out there.
In addition to the press release, NASA has also complied a video detailing the work that will go into the WFIRST, as well as the discoveries it could potentially make. It's an exciting time to be a fan of space exploration!