Astronomers criticize proposed space telescope budget cuts | Space


WASHINGTON — Astronomers are pushing back against plans by NASA to cut the budgets of two venerable space telescopes, arguing that the cuts to one of them could jeopardize the future of X-ray astronomy in the United States.

NASA’s fiscal year 2025 budget proposal, released March 11, proposed reducing the operating budgets of two of its remaining original “Great Observatories” space telescopes. The proposal offered a modest reduction in the Hubble Space Telescope, from $98.3 million in the final fiscal year 2024 spending bill to $88.9 million.

The cuts to the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, though, are more significant. That mission, which received $68.3 million in 2023, would see its budget cut by 40% to $41.1 million in the request. The budget proposal also projected further reductions after 2026, falling to just $5.2 million by fiscal year 2029.

NASA, in its budget request, argued that Chandra’s performance has been degrading over time. “This makes scheduling and the post processing of data more complex, increasing mission management costs beyond what NASA can currently afford,” the budget proposal stated. “The reduction to Chandra will start orderly mission drawdown to minimal operations.”

Astronomers took sharp issue with that characterization of the nearly 25-year-old spacecraft. In a March 19 open letter, Patrick Slane, director of the Chandra X-Ray Center, noted that the mission has been dealing with issues like increasing temperatures for many years, and have incorporated measures to deal with them into existing operations and software. Thus, he concluded, “there is nothing about Chandra’s evolving temperature behavior that makes ‘post processing of data more complex.’”

The budget proposal, he argued, would result in a “closeout” of the mission rather than reduced operations. “The funding levels provided in the new budget plan are consistent with levels for these closeout activities, but lower than can…

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