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Accelerating the Astro2020 Flagships with Super-Heavy Lift Vehicles

Presentation #105.12 in the session Missions and Instruments - Poster Session.

Published onMay 03, 2024
Accelerating the Astro2020 Flagships with Super-Heavy Lift Vehicles

The Astro2020 Decadal Report recognized that 21st Century astrophysics required matched coverage across the electromagnetic spectrum. To create that coverage Astro2020 recommended a set of three Great Observatories: X-ray, IR/O/UV, and Mid-Far-IR. Unfortunately, given the estimated costs and anticipated budget, the first of these (the IR/O/UV flagship) would not launch until 2045. This is a daunting timescale as even JWST with an anticipated lifetime of 20 years will likely be gone by then. Fortunately, there may be a means to speed up the Astro2020 program making use of a new generation of Super-Heavy Lift rockets: SLS, SpaceX Starship, and Blue Origin New Glenn. Each of these vehicles has far greater mass to orbit and payload volume than the present generation of launchers. As a result a broad design space is opened up. It may be possible to use mass and volume to cut the cost of the flagships substantially. Volume is particularly valuable for the IR/O/UV and Mid-Far-IR flagships to avoid the origami-like folding of large mirrors that was necessarily employed for JWST. Instead for the X-ray flagship mass seems to be more important. Examples will be given. Discipline will be needed to restrain ourselves from mission creep, going beyond the already ambitious Astro2020 flagship capabilities. If we can, then major savings may cut years from the Astro2020 timeline. REFERENCE: Accelerating astrophysics with the SpaceX Starship, Martin Elvis, Charles Lawrence, & Sara Seager, 2023, Physics Today, 76 (2), 40-45.

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