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The WFIRST Telescope Sought By NASA – Partially Produced By L3Harris In Rochester—Is Designed To View An Area Of Space 100x Larger Than The Hubble Telescope

Schumer Announces $510.7 Million For NASA To Maintain WFIRST Project In Upcoming Bipartisan Omnibus Spending Package

Schumer: One Step Closer To Blastoff For NASA And L3Harris 

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today announced, following his push, the just-unveiled bipartisan omnibus spending package—which is set to pass Congress this week—includes $510.7 million for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to help continue building the agency’s next flagship telescope, the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST). The $510.7 million in funding represents a $198.5 million increase over last year’s levels.

Schumer explained that the administration’s budget did not include any money whatsoever for WFIRST, but that he rejected those cuts, and worked tirelessly to secure record-setting funding for the revolutionary project in the bipartisan appropriations deal. Schumer explained that WFIRST is being constructed in part by L3Harris Technologies’ elite Rochester workforce, with the company building key components like the Telescope and two Aft Optics Assemblies. In November of 2018, Schumer visited Rochester to advocate for this crucial funding for WFIRST, and one month later announced that Harris Corp., now L3Harris Technolgies, had been awarded a $195.9 million contract from NASA to continue the project. Schumer explained that once complete, the WFIRST Telescope will explore an area of space 100 times bigger than the Hubble Telescope, and thus significantly enhance the precision and clarity of NASA’s view into outer space.

“With this critical funding secured, we are one giant leap closer to propelling the revolutionary WFIRST Telescope to liftoff—something that will open up unknown corners of the universe to NASA and all humanity,” said Senator Schumer. “L3Harris’s elite Rochester workforce are the best in the business, and there is no one better suited to the task of producing NASA’s next flagship telescope. I am proud of the role I played in securing this funding and will keep pushing until NASA and L3Harris  can say ‘mission accomplished’.”

Schumer explained that the WFIRST Telescope is designed to see things that cannot be seen using current technology to solve two of the great riddles of the universe:

  • What is dark energy and what are its implications for the universe? Since dark energy was discovered in 1998, science has sought to understand it and the mystery of how it is causing the Universe to expand.
  • Are there any signs of alien life on exoplanets across the universe? WFIRST will be uniquely built to be an exoplanet hunter to find and survey now unknown worlds that might support life.

Schumer detailed that WFIRST could have the ability to answer these questions for a couple of reasons. First of all, WFIRST will be exceptionally powerful, in that it will have the same image precision as the Hubble Space Telescope, but will be able to see an area of space 100 times larger than Hubble can see. The Hubble Telescope is limited and can only view a small section of space at a time. Until now, if scientists wanted to view a larger area of space, they would have to use a telescope with less power that would show less detail – WFIRST will be the first telescope that can do both. WFIRST will also be able to observe a wide swath of the universe and find and measure exploding stars (supernovas) to study dark energy and help solve the mystery of how it is causing the Universe to expand.

Additionally, WFIRST will be able to find new worlds that could contain life by hunting down and discovering now undetectable exoplanets. Utilizing microlensing techniques and the coronagraph, WFIRST will find and directly image exoplanets orbiting other stars by precisely blocking the light of the star. Nearly 1000 exoplanets have been discovered by NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope, many with unexpected physical properties and orbital structures radically different than our own solar system. But Kepler has identified thousands of candidates that await confirmation, requiring a mission like WFIRST. WFIRST is needed to expand the catalog of known exoplanets, and thus provide a comprehensive view of the formation, evolution, and physical properties of planetary systems.

Schumer explained that WFIRST is NASA’s next Flagship space program that follows the Hubble and James Webb Flagship telescope missions. Since the days of Hubble, NASA has relied on the National Academy of Science and its membership of astronomy experts to identify research priorities and make recommendations to NASA about what priority space projects it should fund in the coming decade. Schumer said that Hubble and James Webb were both recommended by the National Academy of Science and that in 2010, the organization ranked WFIRST as its highest scientific priority large astrophysics mission. Schumer said that this recommendation should prove to his colleagues in Congress the critical importance of fully funding the WFIRST Telescope project.

Schumer said that in 2011, NASA initiated the WFIRST Telescope design, which uses a 2.4-meter telescope form developed by Harris Corp. in Rochester. NASA’s goal is to launch the telescope in the upcoming 2020s. NASA expects the entire project to cost around $3 billion and be completed over the course of the next few years. In FY18, Schumer fought to secure $150 million to keep the WFIRST Telescope project on track. Due to this funding, in May of this year, WFIRST passed a key project milestone, clearing it to enter its preliminary design phase and begin major procurements for flight hardware. In FY19, Schumer secured $312.2 million for the project.

Schumer previously visited Harris Corp., which has since merged with L3 Technologies, in Rochester on November 20 of 2018 to push for Congress to include full funding for the WFIRST mission in the final, Fiscal Year 2019 CJS Appropriations bill. Schumer explained that L3Harris’s top-notch Rochester workforce will create and build several of WFIRST’ key components including the Telescope and two Aft Optics Assemblies. Schumer said that 160 Rochester L3Harris jobs are tied to the WFIRST project and that they rely on the mission advancing.