Every ten years or so, the US astronomy community, under the auspices of the National Academy of Sciences, produces a road map for the next decade’s research in astronomy. The 2010 version, chaired by Roger Blandford, was just released, and astronomer/bloggers have already weighed in: Steinn Sigurðsson and Julianne Dalcanton (in two separate posts on the ground- and space-based recommendations), along with the UK’s Andy Lawrence and Peter Coles have already dissected the report, but I’ll repeat the headlines: the Large-Scale Synoptic Telescope (LSST) is the top ground-based project, and WFIRST is the top-rated satellite — essentially the JDEM mission, rebranded as a broader infrared telescope with major science goals in both the study of dark energy and the hunt for extraterrestrial planets. The biggest surprise comes down the satellite list: the LISA interferometric gravitational-wave telescope is placed above the IXO x-ray satellite, which is only recommended for technology development (albeit at the not inconsiderable level of $180M). Alongside these large missions there is a recommendation for an expanded role for “explorer missions” in the tradition of WMAP, Swift and GALEX.
The big question on this side of the Atlantic is what impact these recommendations (and that is all that they are — NASA, NSF and DOE still make the real decisions) will have on ESA and the various national agencies. The EU astro community has a broadly similar initiative, Astronet, but the political and funding situation is sufficiently different that no one expects it to have as concentrated an impact on European astronomy as the decadal report has in the US. Moreover, both NASA and ESA have stated — I’m not sure how officially — that any future missions are likely to be shared on an 80/20 basis, rather than a more equal 50/50 model that has been discussed for both LISA and IXO.
If this is the case, then perhaps the US is ceding x-rays to the European astronomy community, but claiming the lead for space-based gravitational radiation and infrared astronomy, which raises the question of the place of the EUCLID dark energy mission in the ESA program. Indeed, the next ESA decisions for EUCLID, IXO and LISA are all expected in the coming months, and the level of NASA/ESA cooperation will likely be crucial to the outcome.
The next decade
Posted by Alberto Conti at 20:54