U.S. astronomers are wary that their next big space telescope, a mission to study cosmic acceleration and exoplanets, could balloon in cost and scope just like the budget-busting $8 billion James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). So says a National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine panel tasked with taking the temperature of the field midway between “decadal surveys”—the regular reports in which astronomers list their funding priorities for the next 10 years. Given the recent success in detecting gravitational waves, the panel also says the United States should rejoin a partnership with the European Space Agency (ESA) to build the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA), a mission to study gravitational waves in space.
“The community very much wants to see LISA go forward,” says panel chair Jacqueline Hewitt, an astronomer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. “The partnership [with ESA] dissolved, but it will have to be rebuilt,” she says.
Overall, the panel was pleased with progress made on a variety of scientific fronts, particularly in the study of exoplanets and gravitational waves. But they worried that stagnant budgets at the field’s main funding agencies—the National Science Foundation (NSF) and NASA—along with pressure from overspending on large projects like the JWST are threatening many of astronomers’ most sought-after projects. “Budgets have been different from what we assumed” in 2010, she adds.