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Some Have Asked: What Is ExEP?
By Gary Blackwood

ExEP is the Exoplanet Exploration Program, one of three programmatic themes within the Astrophysics Division at NASA (the others are Cosmic Origins and Physics of the Cosmos). ExEP is chartered to support the 2011 NASA Strategic Plan goal 2.4 to “Discover how the universe works, explore how it began and evolved, and search for Earth-like planets.” Further, ExEP is chartered to address science area objectives from the 2010 Science Mission Directorate Science Plan including planetary system formation, generation of a census of extrasolar planets, and a measurement of their properties. Personally I find this to be a powerful, compelling purpose for our work!

The Program Office for ExEP is located at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., and reports to NASA Headquarters, Science Mission Directorate, Astrophysics Division (APD). Our HQ Program Executive is Dr. Anthony Carro, and our HQ Program Scientist is Dr. Douglas Hudgins.

ExEP is responsible for the success of all projects and tasks within its assigned charter:

  • The Kepler Project, managed by NASA’s Ames Research Center. The purpose of Kepler includes the determination of eta-sub-earth, the frequency of occurrence of Earth-sized planets around solar-type stars. Kepler has collected just over four years of exoplanet survey data but the Project has thoroughly analyzed only two years of data.

  • The Large Binocular Telescope Interferometer (LBTI), managed by the University of Arizona. LBTI will survey 50 nearby solar-type systems to measure the amount of exozodiacal dust, a parameter important to the design of future direct-imaging telescopes sensitive to terrestrial planets.

  • The Astrophysics Focused Telescopes Assets (AFTA) Study, managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. The current concept of WFIRST will perform direct detection of giant planets orbiting our nearest neighboring stars, a microlensing survey of planets beyond the snow line to complete the census that Kepler started, dark energy science with large-area spectroscopic and imaging surveys and monitoring of supernovae, and a wide-field, wide-band infrared survey of the universe at exquisite sensitivity. The next AFTA mission concept report will be delivered to NASA Astrophysics Division (APD) in January 2015.

  • The NASA Exoplanet Science Institute (NExScI), managed by the California Institute of Technology. NExScI manages the Sagan Fellowship program, the observing time allocation for the NASA time on the W. M. Keck Observatory Telescopes, and performs exoplanet science that includes the community follow-up program for the Kepler candidates.

  • Exoplanet Probe Studies. The Probe-Scale Study Office at JPL will produce two design reference missions for the recently-formed Science and Technology Definition Teams, or STDTs, for the internal occulter (coronagraph) and external occulter (starshade-telescope system). The probe mission concept reports will be delivered to NASA APD in January 2015 as potential backups to AFTA, to guide technology investments in the latter half of this decade, and to possibly be considered in the next decadal survey.

  • Program Technology, managed by JPL. This office is responsible for advancing high-contrast imaging technologies through experimental demonstration and model validation for both internal and external occulters.

  • Program Public Engagement, managed by JPL. The Public Engagement team provides outreach through this newsletter, the program website, Twitter, Facebook, Eyes on Exoplanets visualization, and support to the program’s projects, and other national events and programs such as the Night Sky Network.

  • A Program Office managed by JPL includes the Program Chief Scientist, Program Chief Engineer, Mission Manager, and Missions Scientists.

  • In future Newsletters, we’ll bring you a closer look at how individuals in each of these program elements are engaged every day in advancing the science of exoplanets and furthering the search for signs of life in the universe - an ExEP-tional purpose, indeed.