NASA Cuts Black Hole Telescope Mission
Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com
The mission won a NASA competition for a moderately priced space science mission in 2009, and had been scheduled for launch in 2014.
Paul Hertz, NASA’s astrophysics division director, told reporters on a conference call on Thursday that an independent review team estimated GEMS would be 20 to 30 percent over its $119 million budget.
“As they approached their confirmation review, it was clear they would not be able to complete it within their cost cap,” Hertz told reporters. “NASA made the very difficult decision not to confirm GEMS into the implementation phase.”
GEMS excessive cost was due to technical issues in developing the telescope’s instruments, which delayed the project and increased payroll costs.
NASA has spent about $37 million on the project already, and it will spend another $13 million more to cancel agreements it had with Orbital Sciences Corp.
NASA has been faced with large budget overruns, which has affected future programs like the James Webb Space Telescope. This telescope is now estimated to cost almost $9 billion and is planned to be the successor of the Hubble Space Telescope.
GEMS would have included a pair of X-ray telescopes sensitive to polarized light, and would have allowed astronomers to study magnetic fields that surround black holes, neutron stars and other high-energy objects.
“The instrument technology was more difficult and took longer than they had originally estimated,” Hertz said. “That delayed their ability to get started on the rest of their schedule.”
The telescope was still in the design stage, and no hardware had been built when NASA decided to nix the mission.
Hertz said that NASA has no other observatories in the works that are similar to GEMS, but that some of the mission’s science goals could be done through alternative approaches.
Although Hertz said the space agency has no current plans on replacing the GEMS mission, NASA just recently was given two telescopes by the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) on Monday.
The telescopes, which were originally intended for spying on Earth, have 7.9-foot mirrors, and have 100 times the field of view of the Hubble.
These telescopes are ready to go into space once NASA adds cameras, spectrographs and other instruments that a space telescope needs.
The cost of using the NRO telescopes would be cheaper than building one from scratch, but would still require a team of mission scientists, engineers and technicians before getting the NRO telescopes into orbit.