Here on the brink of the 2012 Winter AAS meeting, we are awash in new scientific results in exoplanets, especially from the December 2011 Kepler Science Conference (see writeup later in this newsletter). The AAS meeting features quite a number of exoplanet events and session, which we have summarized here: Exoplanet AAS Events. Also very good news, the two candidate Explorer missions recently selected for definition are both exoplanet missions. WFIRST continues to refine its Design Reference Mission, to be completed later in 2012. Now, our attention is fixed firmly on preparing for the future, and securing a spot in NASA’s portfolio for the next generation of exoplanet missions.
ExoPAG continues its work through the Scientific Analysis Groups (SAGs), with SAG 5 developing New Worlds science requirements for a flagship mission capable of characterizing Earth-like planets in habitable zone of nearby stars. They will report on their nearly complete work at the ExoPAG meeting in Austin on January 7-8. In the last issue of the Newsletter I reported that we were considering mitigations to the program risk that many issues may prevent NASA from being in a position to pay for a challenging New Worlds mission early in the 2020’s. As a result, we are issuing an RFI for probe-class mission concepts to kick-off a process that will involve Community Science Teams in conducting funded concept studies for missions in the $300M - $2B range that can be considered as alternate options should the New Worlds mission not be in the cards for the 2020’s. Our future plans for carrying out these studies 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.