Late Thursday, NASA released the final report of the latest “senior review” of ongoing astrophysics missions, a study done every two years to ensure that missions that have completed their primary missions are still performing science that justifies the expense of their continued operations. This review had been watched closely because of NASA’s constrained budget and the large number of missions under consideration. (A separate review of NASA’s planetary science missions is ongoing.)
The final report was mostly good news for NASA’s astrophysics missions. Even in the more pessimistic of the two budget scenarios considered in the senior review, the committee recommended most missions continue, although in some cases with cuts in certain activities. That included the “K2” mission for Kepler, which had to end its primary mission last year when the second of four reaction wheels failed.
The exception, though, is the Spitzer Space Telescope, one of NASA’s four original Great Observatories. Spitzer “would be the most expensive of the missions reviewed, despite the fact that Spitzer’s observational capabilities are significantly reduced since its prime mission,” the report stated. In the more optimistic funding scenario, it recommended that unless Spitzer can operate at a reduced funding level, it should be terminated. In the more pessimistic scenario, the senior review recommended it be terminated in fiscal year 2015.
In NASA’s response to the senior review report, it went along with that recommendation. “The baseline plan to complete Spitzer operations after the end of FY 2014 and complete the closeout of the mission by the end of FY 2015, consistent with the President’s FY 2015 budget request, is confirmed,” it stated. It adds, though, that the project can submit a revised budget request to operate with reduced funding that would be considered in planning for the FY16 budget request later this year. “If the Administration proposes additional funding for Spitzer in the FY16 Budget, the project will be able to seamlessly continue operations in FY15, while awaiting final appropriations from the Congress for FY16.”