It can take decades to mature an astrophysics flagship mission from concept to launch pad.
For example, the iconic Hubble Space Telescope—arguably the greatest telescope in history and certainly the most recognized—was proposed in the 1940s. Its development began in the 1970s and it launched in 1990. Similarly, the James Webb Space Telescope will launch in 2018, 23 years after work began on the concept. And if approved for development, the Wide-Field Infrared Space Telescope-Astrophysics Focused Telescope Assets (WFIRST-AFTA), currently in a study phase, could launch by the mid-2020s. Early versions of this mission were first proposed in the early 2000s.
Given the long lead times, it’s time to lay plans for a future flagship mission, NASA scientists and engineers agree.
A team led by scientists and engineers at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, is now studying the scientific and technical requirements and costs associated with building a successor to Hubble and the Webb telescope. Dubbed the Advanced Technology Large-Aperture Space Telescope (ATLAST), this mission concept builds upon key technologies developed for Hubble and Webb.
“Conceptually, ATLAST would leverage the technological advances pioneered by the Webb telescope, such as deployable, large segmented-mirror arrays,” said Mark Clampin, ATLAST study scientist and Webb’s project scientist. More here NASA team lays plans to observe new worlds.