Illustrations of the optics and structure of the two 2.4-meter telescopes donated to NASA by the NRO last year. NASA is studying whether to use these telescopes for WFIRST or other missions. (credit: NASA)

The future of space telescopes beyond JWST

by Jeff Foust
Monday, February 4, 2013

The space telescope has a long history, as astronomers endeavored to place instruments above the blurring, light-absorbing atmosphere to observe phenomena that could not be seen as well—or at all—from the ground. That potential has been best realized by the Hubble Space Telescope, which, for over 20 years, has shown what a space telescope can do to fields ranging from planetary astronomy to cosmology. And, as Hubble continues to operate perhaps until late this decade, astronomers are planning for the next-generation space telescope, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), which is overcoming past schedule and cost issues as it advances towards a late 2018 launch (see “A space telescope stays the course”, The Space Review, January 28, 2013).

But what comes after JWST? Astronomers have no shortage of ideas for a follow-on generation of space telescopes, either bigger than JWST or with other features that set them apart from other space or ground-based telescopes. There is, though, a shortage of money to implement these ideas. The long-term future of space astronomy may thus rely on a variety of unconventional approaches, from “gifted” mirrors to a technology testbed on the International Space Station.

Read more: The Space Review: The future of space telescopes beyond JWST.

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