Kepler Mission Extended to 2016


With NASA’s tight budget, there were concerns that some of the agency’s most successful astrophysics missions might not be able to continue. Anxieties were rampant about one mission in particular, the very fruitful exoplanet-hunting Kepler mission, as several years of observations are required in order for Kepler to confirm a repeated orbit as a planet transits its star. But today, after a long awaited Senior Review of nine astrophysics missions, surprisingly all have received funding to continue at least through 2014, with several mission extensions, including Kepler.

“Ad Astra… Kepler mission extended through FY16! We are grateful & ecstatic!” the @NASAKepler Twitter account posted today.

Additionally, missions such as Hubble, Fermi and Swift will receive continued funding. The only mission that took a hit was the Spitzer infrared telescope, which – as of now — will be closed out in 2015, which is sooner than requested.

The Senior Review of missions takes place every two years, with the goal assisting NASA to optimize the scientific productivity of its operating missions during their extended phase. In the Review, missions are ranked as which are most successful; previous Senior Reviews led to the removal of funding for the weakest 10-20% of extended missions, some of which had partial instrument failures or significantly reduced capabilities.

But this year’s review found all the astrophysics mission to be successful.

“These nine missions comprise an extremely strong ensemble to enter the Senior Review process and we find that all are making very significant scientific contributions,” the Review committee wrote in their report.

Here’s a rundown of the missions and how their funding was affected by the Senior Review:

• The Hubble Space Telescope will continue at the currently funded levels.

• Chandra will also continue at current levels, but its Guest Observer budget will actually be increased to account for decreases in Fiscal Year 2011.

• Fermi operations are extended through FY16, with a 10 percent per year reduction starting in FY14.

• Swift and Kepler mission operations are extended through FY16, including funding for data analysis.

• Planck will support one year extended operations of the Low Frequency Instrument (LFI).

• Spitzer’s operations are extended through FY14 with closeout in FY15.

• U.S. science support of Suzaku is extended to March 2015.

• Funding for U.S. support of XMM-Newton is extended through March 2015.

NASA says that all FY15-FY16 decisions are for planning purposes and they will be revisited in the 2014 Senior Review.

Read more in the full report (pdf).

10 Replies to “Kepler Mission Extended to 2016”

  1. This is great news for the management, which is the only part of the Kepler team that will receive any support from NASA. Kepler will produce enough data to keep stellar astrophysicists busy for the rest of our careers. Unfortunately, without any significant funding for science in the extended mission, our careers may be cut short. It will be interesting to see how the exoplanet community deals with the situation that the asteroseismic consortium has been working under for the entire mission so far – i.e. no funding from the project. Maybe they will come looking for a piece of the non-profit Pale Blue Dot project?

  2. Am I right in thinking that this review by itself cannot confer any new funding to Kepler (or in fact any mission)? It’s a necessary but not sufficient condition that the review go well in order for a specific mission to be extended. Congress ultimately makes all these budget decisions (though, one would hope they would consult these reviews in making their decisions.) I’m surprised at the reporting here, that it doesn’t make this distinction clearer.

    1. Thanks for this story UT and for shining a light on the source document.

      The report mostly steered clear of discussing financial returns apart from a few points such as “Investing in innovative ways to reduce costs now could result in a longer lifetime for the mission”.

      Science mission reviews shouldn’t waist any opportunities to demonstrate monetary payback in respect of potential patent sales, R and D spin-offs in advanced solar-electrics, charged couple devices, cryogenics etc.

      The cause for “More Science” and ongoing funding battles (where have we seen that before?) must be waged constantly if Science is to get beyond being shackled to a begging bowl.

      Just sayin..,

    1. Probably because the ‘artist’ responsible for the “concept of Kepler in space” illustration did a bad cut-and-paste job!

    2. It has gone into “safe mode” and is pointing its solar panels towards the Sun?

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