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Space Government NASA The Almighty Buck

NASA Money Crunch Means Trouble For Spitzer Space Telescope 107

Scientific American reports that an ongoing budget crunch at NASA may spell doom for the Spitzer Space Telescope, the agency having "taken stock of its fleet of orbiting astrophysics telescopes and decided which to save and which to shutter. Among the winners were the Hubble Space Telescope, the Chandra X-Ray Observatory and the Kepler planet-hunting telescope, which will begin a modified mission designed to compensate for the recent failure of two of its four stabilizing reaction wheels." Also from the SciAm article: "Until JWST comes online, no other telescope can approach Spitzer’s sensitivity in the range of infrared light it sees. The Senior Review report noted that Spitzer had the largest oversubscription of any NASA mission from 2013 to 2014, meaning that it gets about seven times more applications for observing time from scientists than it can accommodate. ...'The guest observing programs were very powerful because you get people from all over the world proposing ideas that maybe the people on the team wouldn’t have come up with,' [senior review panel chair Ben R.] Oppenheimer says. 'But it’s got to be paid for.'"
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NASA Money Crunch Means Trouble For Spitzer Space Telescope

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 25, 2014 @06:31AM (#47086561)


    You do not understand how these telescope missions are funded, or, apparently that it costs millions simply to keep a space telescope running once it is up. The scientists who want to use Spitzer do not, and can not, pay for it out of pocket. There are no parties willing or able to pay for anything related to telescope operations, other than NASA itself. The oversubscription indicates its scientific usefulness and relevance, not some economic market model potential.

    In fact, it is the other way around. Astronomers get the observations "for free" after stringent selection, and then *get extra money from NASA* to be able to analyze the data. I.e., most of the bureaucracy and red tape is already taken out and much of the funding goes directly to the end user. This is a standard and efficient model.

    NASA is not therefore "in between the people who want to use the instrument and the instrument itself", it is funding all operational costs of the telescope+instruments, maintaining the data archive, providing technical support to users, *and* provide them with funding to analyze the data.

  • Re:cry wolf? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 25, 2014 @06:57AM (#47086591)

    No. NASA followed the ranking of facilities in the Senior Review report that were set by an external non-NASA advisory panel composed of prominent scientists.

    Although scientifically Spitzer was rated as excellent and unique, given its somewhat lower ranking in the report and the comparatively large cost of the extended mission, it is vulnerable to shutdown.

    NASA has said in the official response to the Senior Review: "The Spitzer project is invited to respond with a request for a budget augmentation to conduct continued operations with reduced operations costs. The response requesting a budget augmentation, if submitted, will be considered during the FY 2016 budget formulation process. If the Administration proposes additional funding for Spitzer in the FY16 Budget, the project will be able to seamlessly continue operations in FY15"

    So it is not done yet. This is not cry wolf, it is NASA putting pressure on Spitzer administrators to submit a modified slimmed down budget compared to the one originally proposed.

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