Roman Space Telescope top challenge for new NASA astrophysics director

WASHINGTON — The particular person tapped to be the subsequent head of NASA’s astrophysics division says his prime precedence is to maintain the company’s subsequent massive house telescope on schedule and inside its price range.

NASA introduced July 14 that Mark Clampin would take over as director of NASA’s astrophysics division, efficient Aug. 15. He succeeds Paul Hertz, who introduced final yr his intent to step down from the place after a decade. Hertz will stay on the company as a senior adviser to Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA affiliate administrator for science.

Clampin is at present director of the science and exploration directorate on the Goddard Area Flight Middle. He beforehand led the middle’s astrophysics division and in addition labored on the Hubble Area Telescope, James Webb Area Telescope and Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite tv for pc missions.

Throughout a gathering of the company’s Astrophysics Advisory Committee July 21, Clampin mentioned a key precedence for him is to maintain the Nancy Grace Roman Area Telescope on observe for a launch as quickly as October 2026. The two.4-meter telescope is the subsequent massive, or flagship, astrophysics mission after JWST.

“For me, the primary problem is ensuring that we maintain the Roman Area Telescope on observe,” he mentioned, together with “staying forward of the fires” or issues that crop up throughout its growth.

Hertz beforehand mentioned that holding Roman on price and schedule was essential to successful help for future house telescopes, reminiscent of the road of missions proposed by the Astro2020 decadal survey final yr. Clampin supplied an analogous view.

“Individuals are watching how we do on Roman for instance of whether or not we are able to do a very good job sooner or later,” he mentioned. “The Roman science is essential and it’s additionally essential that we display that we are able to keep on observe on this telescope as we put it collectively. That might be my highest precedence.”

NASA is beginning efforts to plan for the subsequent flagship mission after Roman, at present envisioned as a big infrared, optical and ultraviolet house telescope designated IROUV. A brand new effort, the Nice Observatories Mission and Expertise Maturation Program or GOMAP, is getting underway to outline science targets and advance key applied sciences want for the mission.

Clampin mentioned he was getting a briefing quickly on GOMAP. “One of many essential classes I need to deliver to this endeavor is to guarantee that we actually give attention to the science targets and don’t let the science scope of this mission develop an excessive amount of,” he mentioned. “One in every of my classes realized from Webb is that finally ends up coming on the expense of lots of extra prices.”

A near-term problem he faces is price range pressures on NASA’s portfolio of astrophysics missions. A spending invoice accepted by Home appropriators final month would supply $1.525 billion for astrophysics in fiscal yr 2023, barely lower than the request. With full funding allotted to a number of main applications, together with Roman, Hubble and JWST, and a rise in closeout funding for the SOFIA airborne observatory, different elements of astrophysics are dealing with a $51 million minimize ought to these funding ranges stand within the last model of the invoice, Hertz informed the committee July 20.

Clampin acknowledged issues in regards to the price range however mentioned that public curiosity within the subject, stimulated by the primary science pictures from JWST launched earlier within the month, may help win help for different astrophysics applications.

“One of many nice strengths we’ve got is that what we do in astrophysics actually engages with most of the people, with our stakeholders on the Hill. Everyone will get excited,” he mentioned. He recalled a current assembly at Capitol Hill with congressional officers about JWST. “They’re all actually enthusiastic about James Webb. You discuss to them in regards to the science, they’re jazzed by that. After which the subsequent query is, ‘What are you doing subsequent? What’s the subsequent large technical problem for the nation within the astrophysics?’”

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