Science

NASA Set to Launch Successor of the Hubble Space Telescope

By | Apr 18, 2015 06:14 AM EDT
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Eye into space

The Hubble Space Telescope doing its job.(Photo : Reuters)

With Hubble Space Telescope celebrating the 25th anniversary of its launch into orbit this year, its successor is being prepped for action by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Hubble's immediate successor is NASA's US$8.8 billion James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), which is due to launch in 2017. The infrared-optimized JWST will study the atmospheres of some nearby planets to be found by the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS, which NASA intends to launch in 2018.

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The Webb, which is a joint project between US, European and Canadian space agencies, will be more powerful than the Hubble ever was, and will be able to see even further into the Universe. But nothing can erase the ground-breaking and scientific studies the Hubble has been a part of in its quarter century of service.

The Webb will be stationed far beyond the Hubble's low-Earth orbit. In fact, it's designed to sit far out from the Earth, past the moon, at a massive 932,000 miles from our plant. It's designed to have a deployable solar shield to block out light pollution from the Sun, the Moon and the Earth. This will enable the telescope to see even the faintest light coming from interstellar objects.

"A large sample of planets -- around 50 -- would have to be tested. Calculations show, for example, that if no biosignatures are detected in more than about three dozen Earth analogues, the probability of remotely detectable extrasolar life in our galactic neighborhood is less than about 10%," said Mario Livio, an astrophysicist based at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, which operates Hubble's science program.

NASA is also developing a potential space-telescope mission called WFIRST/AFTA (short for Wide Field Infra­red Survey Telescope-Astrophysics Focused Telescope Assets). WFIRST/AFTA, which could launch around 2024 if it gets the final go-ahead, would continue the search for biosignatures, among several other major tasks.

The Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy plans to release a report this June on such a potential telescope.

 

 

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