Mission-specific technology development funding has suffered substantial cuts over the past decade, cuts reflected in the immature state of a number of missions the survey committee has ranked as having very high scientific priority. The Astro2010 Panel on Particle Astrophysics and Gravitation found that further investment is needed in systems engineering and life-testing of components for the LISA Pathfinder mission, which is designed to demonstrate a number of LISA’s critical technologies. The Panel on Electromagnetic Observations from Space identified significant technology development needs for IXO, primary among them being the selection and demonstration of the critical X-ray optics. The survey committee also found IXO technologies to be too immature at present for accurate cost and risk assessment, and therefore recommends (in Chapter 7) significant investment in technology development during this decade so that IXO can be considered ready for a mission start early in the next decade. Instrumentation for the SPICA mission is a third area where specific technology development funds are needed during this decade. Determining the optimum funding levels is difficult, but NASA should collect and analyze the appropriate statistical data and apply sufficient funds for technology maturation for LISA, IXO, and SPICA.
Mid-term technology development enables defining, maturing, and ultimately selecting approaches to realize future scientific goals. In mid-term technology development it is usually necessary to pursue multiple paths to the same end, since both the detailed science requirements and the success of particular technologies remain uncertain. In addition, it is essential to pursue a broad range of technologies spanning the electromagnetic spectrum to ensure the vitality of competed mission lines and to pave the way for next-decade missions. The later stages of mid-term development are typically more costly than early-stage concept demonstration, because they may involve expensive prototypes or significant engineering efforts to design systems that can withstand testing in relevant environments.
The committee identified a number of high-priority science areas for which mid-term investments are needed beginning early in the decade, including development of a variety of technologies for exoplanet imaging, such as coronagraphs, interferometers, and star shades, leading to possible late-decade down-selecting. In addition, mid-term investment is needed for systems aimed at detecting the polarization of the CMB, and for optics and detectors for a future space UV space telescope. Broad-based mid-term technology development is also crucial to the Explorer program, which selects missions that can be implemented on short timescales.
Mid-term technology development is funded primarily through NASA’s Astronomy and Physics Research and Analysis (APRA) program, which was cut