With each new innovation, NASA seems to dwarf its previous accomplishments, and this certainly appears to be the case for the agency’s latest and greatest space telescope. Promising to make Hubble look like child’s play, the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) will be every bit as precise and powerful as the Hubble Space Telescope, but will have 100 times the field of view. The goal? To better understand the dark matter and energy that seems to be the secret of the universe.
“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,” said John Grunsfeld, head of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, D.C. in a statement earlier this week. With a single image, the WFIRST will be able to see millions of galaxies. The mind truly boggles.
In a press release, NASA noted that WFIRST has two primary missions — first, to answer “fundamental questions about the structure and evolution of the universe,” and second, to “expand our knowledge of planets beyond our solar system.” To aid in these grandiose efforts, NASA also plans on launching the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), which is slated to take to orbit in 2017 with the mission of finding and examining new planets.
A year later, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), the real heir to the Hubble Telescope, is expected to lift off after a number of significant delays and budget adjustments (that project alone has cost $8 billion — significantly more than the originally allocated sub-$2 billion price tag). The purpose of JWST will be to explore some of the farthest reaches of the universe in hopes of discovering the secrets of their formation.
Then, by the mid-2020’s, NASA hopes it can get WFIRST off the ground and into space, bringing all this incredible research full circle. Currently, the anticipated cost of the project is $2 billion, but given what happens with JWST, it’s unclear just how accurate those numbers (both in terms of launch date and price) really are. But when you’re unlocking the meaning of the universe, what’s time and money got to do with it?