NASA Gets a Present
The exciting news of the day is that the “National Reconnaissance Office” is donating two unused spy satellites to NASA. From the limited information available, there are two satellites with 2.4 meter mirrors just sitting around gathering dust (metaphorically speaking, because they’re actually parked in a climactically controlled clean room). There are no instruments on board, and they lack solar panels or pointing controls, so it will take a fair bit of engineering to turn these into upward-looking space telescopes. In the real world, “engineering” is the same thing as “money”, so the exact fate of these satellites is not clear. However, it is likely that one will be repurposed into “WFIRST”, which was the Frankenstein-style mission proposed by the latest astronomical decadal survey to provide further observational constraints on Dark Energy. Many had wondered why no significant funding lines were opening up for WFIRST, but it seems likely that this has been the deep-background plan for a while. However, WFIRST is only one mission, and there are two satellites, which opens up some exciting possibilities. I’m sure the UV community in particular is starting to salivate — they’ve been making huge advances in coating and detector technology, so even a modest 2.4m mirror could offer as big a gain as the jump to the James Web Space Telescope (JWST) offers in the infrared.