The estimated cost of NASA’s next major astrophysics mission after the James Webb Space Telescope has increased by up to 25 percent, growth that a new report warns could hurt other priorities for NASA astronomy missions in the coming years.
The potential cost increase in the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) mission was noted in a report issued by the National Academies Aug. 15 that reviewed the progress by NASA and other agencies in implementing the most recent astrophysics decadal survey, published in 2010.
WFIRST, which became a formal project in February, had an estimated cost of $2.0 to 2.3 billion, based on an independent cost and technical estimate performed by the Aerospace Corp. in 2015. However, the National Academies report said that between the completion of that assessment and the decision to make WFIRST a formal project, known as Key Decision Point A, the cost of the mission had increased by $550 million.
Part of that increase, according to the report, is linked to the decision to fly WFIRST at the Earth-sun L-2 Lagrange point, about 1.5 million kilometers from the Earth, rather than in geostationary orbit as originally planned. Increased prices for the baseline launch vehicle, a United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy, also contributed to the cost growth by an unknown amount. “Some of it may simply reflect more accurate assessment as the mission design matures,” the report added.
NASA spokeswoman Felicia Chou said Aug. 15 that of that $550 million increase, only $100 million was linked to design changes to the WFIRST spacecraft. The rest, she said, was caused by factors that included a change in the estimated launch vehicle price and a delayed launch date.