I hope you had an excellent summer and are refreshed for renewed participation in the exciting field of exoplanetology. While programmatic events have been on a slow roll during the summer, exciting scientific results on exoplanets have continued to come in (because science never sleeps). In particular, the Kepler early data release on September 23 was chock full of wondrous new planets.
As reported below, the 2011 Sagan Summer Workshop: Exploring Exoplanets with Microlensing was held at Caltech, and calls for 2012 Sagan Postdoctoral Fellowships and for 2012A Keck observing time were issued. At LBTI, progress continues with the installation of the adaptive secondary mirror number 2, so we expect NASA key science to begin in a few months. In our technology program, a new round of Technology Development for Exoplanet Missions awards were announced while accomplishments from the last round are being racked up, moving us closer to a future “New Worlds” flagship imaging and spectroscopy mission, as called for in the New Worlds, New Horizons decadal survey report. And, WFIRST has made significant progress with the release of an Interim Design Reference Mission report, accompanied by an Independent Cost Estimate (ICE) and Cost and Technical Evaluation (CATE) by the Aerospace Corporation.
Meanwhile, ExoPAG continues its work through the Scientific Analysis Groups (SAGs), with SAG 9 developing New Worlds science requirements through a presence on Yahoo Groups. As discussed at the June meeting, efforts are focused on the steps necessary to prepare a New Worlds mission concept and technology for endorsement by the 2020 decadal survey. Also discussed at that meeting was the idea that many issues may prevent NASA from being in a position to pay for such a challenging mission early in the 2020’s. I have taken that message on-board and see it as a case of significant ExEP program-level risk for which we must develop mitigations. I am currently engaged in discussions with NASA HQ, the ExoPAG Executive Committee, and soon the Astrophysics Subcommittee of the NAC regarding also studying less expensive “probe-class” missions as part of our roadmap to 2020. The outcomes from these discussions and future plans update will be presented at the 7-8 January meeting of the ExoPAG adjacent to the winter AAS meeting in Austin, TX. So, mount up and ride on down and join us. It’s your field, your program and we want your participation.