NASA’s next flagship astronomy mission after the James Webb Space Telescope will become a formal project in February thanks to increased funding and direction from Congress, even as the agency looks to make cuts elsewhere in its astrophysics program.
Paul Hertz, director of NASA’s astrophysics division, told astronomers attending the 227th Meeting of the American Astronomical Society here Jan. 4 that the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) will enter its “formulation phase,” the beginning of NASA’s project management process, in February after the proposed space telescope passed a mission concept review in December.
That decision also comes after the passage of the fiscal year 2016 omnibus spending bill in December that provided $90 million for WFIRST, far above NASA’s request of $14 million. The report accompanying the bill adopted language approved by Senate appropriators in June directing NASA to move WFIRST into the formulation phase by early 2016.
The increase is not the first time Congress has added funding for WFIRST. In fiscal year 2015, NASA requested $14 million but Congress appropriated $50 million. In 2014, Congress provided $56 million for WFIRST.