What should we expect from the next generation of space telescopes?What key scientific questions will they help answer? Do we have the technology we need to operate them in 20-30 years?
To address these issues, NASA selected four large space mission concepts to study & consider as possible future Large Strategic Science Missions. Of the NASA astrophysics division missions, these tend to be the most expensive, but also have the greatest capacity.
Three of those space telescopes got the attention of the SETI Institute because of their potential to answer the question, Are We Alone?
The Origins Space Telescope(Origins) is a large cooled infrared space telescope with higher sensitivity & better angular resolution than any prior observatory accessing similar wavelengths. Among its many science objectives covering the first stars to life, Originscould help scientists understand the abundance & availability of water for habitable planets, & could look forbiosignatures on potentially habitable worlds transiting low-mass stars.
The Large UV Optical Infrared Surveyor (or LUVOIR) is a general-purpose observatory; its key science goal is to characterize a wide range of exoplanets, including those that might be habitable & orbiting a range of stellar types.
The Habitable Exoplanet Imaging Mission (HabEx) is a space telescope, optimized to search for & image Earth-sized exoplanets in the habitable zones around sun-like stars, where liquid water might exist. HabEx would also have a suite of general astrophysics science capabilities.
Each of these concepts has pros & cons, as well as other technological, cost & risk challenges. These mission concepts will be described in detail in their final study reports, which will be delivered to the National Academy of Sciences for the Astro 2020 Decadal Survey later this year. It is still unknown whether the Decadal Survey will prioritize none, one or even several of these concepts, but the several hundred scientists & engineers involved in these mission concept studies for the past three years are confident that we are now capable of building these telescopes, & that the science that they can deliver will be compelling & change again our view of the cosmos, just as the Hubble Space Telescope has done for the past 3 decades.
We invited three scientists directly involved in each one of the three teams above to discuss these exciting future mission projects. During this SETI Talk, they will describe their projects, & tell us more about the challenges & the processes that could make these missions a reality:
Prof. Courtney Dressing, astronomer & member of the LUVOIR Science & Technology Definition Team (STDT) whose research aims to detect & characterize planetary systems orbiting nearby stars.
Dr. Kimberly Ennico Smith, a NASA research astrophysicist, who is multidisciplinary in her approach to space instruments, telescopes & mission concepts. She is a member of the STDT of OST.
Prof. Scott Gaudi, astronomer & community chair of the HabEx STDT, . Gaudi bridges the gap between theory & observations, with extensive experience in leadership roles & consensus-building, as well as experience with several exoplanet detection methods & exoplanet surveys.
Courtney Dressing is an assistant professor of astronomy at the University of California, Berkeley. As an observational astronomer she has focused her research on detecting & characterizing planetary systems orbiting nearby stars. She has used telescopes on the ground & in space to search for planets, probe their atmospheres, measure their masses, & constrain their bulk compositions. Courtney is curious about how planets form & evolve with time, the frequency of planetary systems in the Galaxy, & the prospects for detecting life on planets outside of our Solar System.
Dr. Kimberly Ennico Smithis a NASA research astrophysicist at NASA Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley. She is multidisciplinary in her approach to space instruments, telescopes & mission concepts. She has designed & built infrared airborne & space telescope cameras & spectrometers, tested detectors in laboratories & particle accelerators, designed low-cost suborbital instruments, built lunar payloads, & most recently served as deputy Project Scientist leading the calibration of the New Horizons Pluto fly-by mission & Project Scientist for the flying infrared observatory SOFIA.
Professor Scott Gaudi is a leader in the discovery & statistical characterization of extrasolar planets using a variety of methods, including transits & gravitational microlensing. In 2008, he & his collaborators announced the discovery of the first Jupiter/Saturn analog. Prof Gaudi is deeply immersed in analytic & numerical techniques for assessing the yield, biases, & discovery potential of current & next-generation surveys to determine the demographics of exoplanets. More broadly, his interests revolve around the information content of large datasets. Scott is a member of the Science Definition Team for NASA's Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), & is the chair-elect for the NASA Exoplanet Exploration Analysis Group. Widely recognized within the community for his work, he was the 2009 recipient of the Helen B. Warner Prize of the American Astronomical Society, received NSF CAREER & PECASE awards, was named a University Distinguished Scholar in 2016, & in 2017 he was awarded the NASA Outstanding Public Leadership Medal in recognition of his "outstanding leadership as the ExoPlanet Program Analysis Group Chairperson having significant impact on NASA's search for exoplanets & life in the universe."