The Trump administration has released the NASA budget proposal for the fiscal year 2019 on Feb 12. The $19.9 billion budget has recommended the elimination of the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope.
The government has cited higher priorities at the U.S. space agency for backing the cancellation.
The proposal has stated that given budget constraints and competing priorities at the U.S. space agency, it is not the administration's priority to develop one more huge space telescope soon after the completion of the James Webb telescope that costs $ 8.8 billion.
The proposal also said that the budget proposed to cancel WFIRST and direct the existing funds to other priorities of the science community, such as completed astrophysics research and missions.
Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope
The WFIRST was in line after the James Webb Space Telescope, which is going to be launched in 2019, as the next big thing in astronomy mission. It is at present in the initial phases of development and design and was slated to be launched during the mid-2020s.
The NASA headquarters had given the go-ahead to a big design review for WFIRST this month. The budget for the mission was already being trimmed down after it was found to be getting too costly. Now, the mission could be scrapped entirely.
The engineers and scientists associated with WFIRST have to now wait for Congress to deal with its own budget proposals for the 2019 fiscal year in the next few months and hope that lawmakers have a better deal lined up for the future of the mission than the president has.
Cochair of the WFIRST research team, David Spergel, who is an astrophysicist at the Princeton University, thinks that it is terrible that space astronomy leadership is being abandoned, following the recommendation of the Trump administration to cut the mission.
WFIRST was designed to study dark energy, a mysterious substance that the universe is mostly made up of, as per astrophysicists. It was also going to study and directly image the chemical composition of planets located outside the solar system.
Trump's NASA Budget For Fiscal Year 2019
Trump’s budget request does not actually impact the operations of WFIRST. The director of the astrophysics division at NASA, Paul Hertz has emailed WFIRST staff to keep working.
“For the remainder of this year, while the Congress considers this proposal from the president, the WFIRST project will continue making progress with the FY 2018 budget allocation consistent with congressional direction,” Hertz wrote.
Hertz also added that only way to preserve the U.S. space agency's ability to meet the established target cost and deliver the project on time is to maintain progress against the existing plan, should Congress decide against Trump's proposal to eliminate WFIRST.