NASA Extends Exploration Of Universe For Eight Astrophysics Missions

Image Credit: NASA

July 18, 2019 – As the Agency sets its sights on sending astronauts back to the Moon and on to Mars, NASA is continuing its pursuit of cosmic science beyond our solar system by extending the missions of eight astrophysics spacecraft that are currently operating, following a review of their productivity.

The missions — Chandra, Fermi, Hubble, NICER, NuSTAR, Swift, TESS, and the NASA contribution to the European XMM-Newton mission — represent a wide range of scientific capabilities and tackle a variety of burning questions about the universe. Collectively, this group targets mysterious celestial objects such as black holes, planets beyond our solar system, bursts of high-energy radiation, exploding stars and distant galaxies.

The agency convenes a “Senior Review” of its operating science missions every three years. An external panel of astrophysics experts from across the United States assembles to evaluate whether the scientific productivity of the missions merits their continued operation. The 2019 panel found that NASA’s fleet of astrophysics operating missions constitute “a portfolio of extraordinary scientific” power, and recommended that all eight missions continue for the next three-year period.

“The Senior Review ensures that NASA’s portfolio of operating missions continues to operate at top efficiency, delivering new discoveries about the universe. I thank the members of the Senior Review panel for their thorough review of these missions,” said Paul Hertz, director of the astrophysics division at NASA Headquarters, Washington.

The assembled experts judged that “the complementary nature of these missions makes the overall capability of the portfolio more than the sum of its parts,” and noted that “many of the most exciting developments in contemporary astrophysics draw on observations from several of these observatories simultaneously.”

The panel also praised the vitality of the astrophysics operating missions, noting that many have reinvented themselves to address groundbreaking science in emerging fields. In particular, this portfolio of missions is poised to answer essential questions in a new field called multi-messenger astrophysics. It is only in the last few years that ripples in spacetime known as gravitational waves have been detected, and that such colossal astronomical events have been observed through both light and gravitational waves. NASA space telescopes and experiments have the ability to provide insight into such events by measuring light across the electromagnetic spectrum, and combining the data with gravitational wave observations for a fuller picture.

Following the Senior Review, NASA has formally extended the operations of these missions for the next three years, to be revisited in the 2022 Senior Review.

The detailed reports from the 2019 Astrophysics Senior Review may be found at: https://science.nasa.gov/astrophysics/2019-senior-review-operating-missions/