Issue 14 - October 2014
Message from the NASA Exoplanet Exploration Program Manager
By Gary Blackwood
The purpose of the Exoplanet Exploration Program (ExEP) is to implement a fundamental aspect of the space science vision of NASA’s Astrophysics Division: to detect and characterize exoplanets, determine their habitability, and search for signs of life. In the second half of fiscal 2014 we made progress towards these goals through projects and studies conducted at three NASA Centers and at several universities. The Program benefits from the strong participation of exoplanet community leaders through forums such as the Exoplanet Program Analysis Group (ExoPAG) and the Exoplanet Technical Analysis Committee (ExoTAC).
The Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope/Astrophysics Focused Telescope Assets (WFIRST/AFTA) is a major focus of the program. The coronagraph instrument for direct imaging and spectroscopy of exoplanets requires key new technologies. Development is proceeding as a focused, directed program managed by the WFIRST Study Office to reach Technology Readiness Level (TRL)-5 by the start of FY 2017. See Major Advances in Coronagraph Technology for details of the lab experiments at JPL and Princeton University. Also see this issue's Science Update for how the program manages the development of technology in support of NASA’s exoplanet missions - including coronagraph and starshade technologies - identified from the science objectives of these missions.
Kepler-K2 is the continuation of the highly successful Kepler mission approved in April by the Astrophysics Division's Senior Review of operating missions. K2 has already completed Science Campaign 1 and Science Campaign 2 is underway. The community is invited to submit proposals for later science campaigns. The original Kepler mission will deliver long-period and short-period data products using the SOC 9.2 pipeline in November 2014 and March 2015, respectively. The final pipeline and archive of final data products (SOC 10.0) will be complete by the end of FY 2017.
The Large Binocular Telescope Interferometer (LBTI) continues to work towards full operation. Current instrument performance is 60 zodi (1-sigma) relative to the project requirement of 3 zodi. Two observing runs planned for May and July 2014 were unsuccessful due to operational unreliability in the right-side (DX) secondary mirror adaptive optics system. Repairs have been completed, and commissioning runs will commence in October 2014. Performance is expected to improve as these future runs proceed. The Operational Readiness Review (ORR) was postponed to April 2015.
The Exoplanet Program Analysis Group (ExoPAG) provides community input to the Astrophysics Division through the Astrophysics Subcommittee. It is open to anyone in the astronomy community who wishes to contribute. Three new members were appointed this year --- Margaret Turnbull (Global Science Institute), Rus Belikov (NASA Ames Research Center), and Lucianne Walkowicz (Princeton University). They replace members rolling off at the conclusion of their three-year terms. We thank Aki Roberge (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center), Tom Green (NASA Ames Research Center), and Lisa Kaltenegger (now at Cornell University) for their service.
Scott Gaudi (Ohio State University) and Sara Seager (MIT) were named Distinguished Visiting Scientists at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. They will work with both the JPL Center and the Exoplanet Exploration Program to advance exoplanet science.
The Keck Observatory Archive marked the 10th anniversary of operations. Since August 2004, it has served over 1 million data requests. The archive now houses over 30 TB of data extending as far back as 1994, and includes data from all Keck instruments.
You may view my presentation on the overview of the Exoplanet Exploration Program, given at the 2014 Sagan Summer Workshop, online at http://vimeopro.com/vcubeusa/caltech2014.
Program Manager, Exoplanet Exploration, Jet Propulsion Laboratory
NASA Astrophysics Division