How Long Will We Wait for NASA’s Next Astronomy Mission?

NASA plans to explore the universe, but it won’t be right away.

The space agency says it will wait until 2015 to lay out a proposal for its next big astrophysics mission, which could take the form of a single large spacecraft or a series of smaller craft performing related studies, a senior agency official said July 30.

A new flagship mission stands almost no chance of being funded until after work is finished on the budget-busting James Webb Space Telescope, which is scheduled to launch in 2018, said Paul Hertz, director of NASA’s Astrophysics Division. But the planning can begin before JWST begins its five-year mission to study the origins of the universe.

When the prime contract for the James Webb Space Telescope, or JWST, was awarded in 2002, the observatory, billed as the successor to NASA’s hugely successful Hubble Space Telescope, was expected to launch in 2010 and cost a few billion dollars. The observatory’s projected price tag has since risen to nearly $9 billion.

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