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New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics
considerably in the middle of the past decade. Although APRA funding has been restored to approximately 80 percent of its 2004 level (in FY2010 dollars), specific science priorities identified by the committee and its Program Prioritization Panels led the committee to recommend establishing these mid-term technology development programs and restoring APRA funding to a level matched to the needs of long-term technology development as described below. In Chapter 7 the committee recommends specific technology development programs in exoplanet, CMB, and UV instrumentation, as well as an augmentation to general mid-term development efforts that would ramp up by the end of the decade. Suborbital programs (balloons and rockets),which demonstrate scientific potential and test technologies in a space environment, are also critical in mid-term technology development and also are recommended in Chapter 7 for an augmentation.
Long-Term Technology Development
Long-term technology development builds the future of the space astrophysics program. It has become standard to achieve order-of-magnitude or greater increases in capability with each generation of missions, and exciting science breakthroughs have been achieved as a result. The only way to advance to the next capability without an exponential increase in mission costs is to find transformational new technological solutions. Some of the breakthroughs and advances have come from outside (such as microelectronics and near-IR detector arrays), but many of the technologies required in astrophysics are unique to the field, and their development must be supported from within. Examples of truly revolutionary technologies, essential to existing and upcoming astrophysics missions, that have been largely or entirely supported by NASA are X-ray imaging mirrors, X-ray microcalorimeters, and large arrays of submillimeter detectors. Future needs might include atomic laser gyros for pointing an X-ray interferometer, lightweight active mirror surfaces, new grating geometries, and novel techniques for nulling interferometry.
The appropriate level of investment in technology of long-term benefit is difficult to determine. A recent NRC report provides an excellent discussion of the metrics that should be used to establish and maintain a balanced technology development program but does not attempt to specify appropriate funding levels.22 It points out the clear importance of the long-range, high-risk, high-payoff component of technology development, noting that industry typically devotes 5 to 10 percent of R&D budgets to this component. Another report, which concluded that about 8 percent of a government entity’s research budget should be set aside for
National Research Council, An Enabling Foundation for NASA’s Space and Earth Science Missions, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2010.