Photo of Gary Blackwood
Issue 17 - March 2017
Message from the NASA Exoplanet Exploration Program Manager
By Gary Blackwood

The compelling science of NASA's search for habitable worlds and life beyond the solar system continues to attract top talent to the field, and the same is true for NASA's Exoplanet Exploration program, which serves the science community by implementing NASA's space science vision for exoplanets. Accordingly I'd like to welcome to the Program these exceptional individuals:

2017 Class of Sagan Fellows:

  • Dr. Raphaëlle Haywood - Harvard College Observatory;
  • Dr. Ben Pope - New York University;
  • Dr. Andrew Vanderburg - University of Texas at Austin

Exoplanet Project Offices:

  • Dr. Natalie Batalha, Kepler Project Scientist - NASA ARC;
  • Dr. Jessie Dotson, K2 Project Scientist - NASA ARC;
  • Dr. Margaret (Peg) Frerking, WFIRST CGI Manager – NASA JPL;
  • Dr. Jason Rhodes, WFIRST Project Scientist – NASA JPL;
  • Dr. Feng Zhao, WFIRST Deputy CGI Manager – NASA JPL;
  • Dr. Leonidas Moustakas, WFIRST Deputy Project Scientist – NASA JPL

Exoplanet Exploration Program Office:

  • Dr. Eric Mamajek, Deputy Program Chief Scientist - NASA JPL;
  • Tony Comberiate, WFIRST Mission Manager – NASA JPL;
  • Dr. John Callas, NN-EXPLORE Manager, NASA JPL;
  • Kendra Short, Deputy Program Manager, NASA JPL;
  • Dr. John Ziemer, Starshade Technology Manager, NASA JPL;
  • Sharmon Keasler, WFIRST Mission Business Manager, NASA JPL;
  • Dr. Chris Gelino, LBTI Project Scientist, NExSci;
  • Dr. Brendan Crill, Deputy Technology Development Manager, NASA JPL;
  • Bruce Nomoto, Program Resource Analyst, NASA JPL

The breadth and pace of recent progress by our exoplanet extended team is exceptional:

  • The Kepler Project, managed by the NASA Ames Research Center, delivered final Q0-Q17 short cadence light curves and a documentation completeness review.
  • The Kepler/K2 Project, also managed by the NASA Ames Research Center, delivered data for campaigns C7-C10 to archive and continues observations (currently in Campaign 12).
  • The Large Binocular Telescope Interferometer (LBTI) doubled the number of stars (to 8) surveyed for exozodiacal dust.
  • The Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) Project, managed by the NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center, continues progress in Formulation Phase A: WFIRST completed a required Acquisition Strategy Meeting and Phase A contracts for the Wide Field Optomechanical Assembly (WOMA) with Ball Aerospace and Lockheed Martin.
  • WFIRST completed all technology milestones for the near-infrared detectors and is now at Technology Readiness Level (TRL)-6, and all milestones for the coronagraph by demonstrating better than 10^(-8) raw contrast at 10 percent optical bandwidth centered at 550 nanometers in a simulated dynamic environment. The coronagraph technology for WFIRST is now at TRL-5.
  • The NASA-NSF Partnership for Exoplanet Exploration (NN-EXPLORE) Project, managed by Pennsylvania State University, held a successful detailed design review of the NEID radial velocity instrument planned for commissioning on the WIYN Telescope on Kitt Peak Observatory in 2019.
  • A successful Sagan Summer Workshop was hosted by NExScI, with 178 registrants and the topic, "Is there a planet in my data?"
  • A new technology needs assessment and prioritization was performed by the Program Chief Technologist with the science and technology community and presented at the last ExoPAG meeting and An updated program Technology Plan and Technology Plan Appendix were released, and a technology colloquia has started
  • The Starshade Readiness Working Group delivered a final report to the Astrophysics Division Director and concluded that ground technology demonstrations would be sufficient to demonstrate TRL-6 and thus enable a starshade science flight mission such as a starshade rendezvous mission with WFIRST.
  • A Starshade Technology Development Activity was created for direct technology investments to bring starshade technologies (starlight suppression, precision structural deployments, and formation flying) to TRL-5. The first workshop was held in Pasadena on December 1: The WFIRST project is studying the technical, cost and risk impacts of accommodating a starshade for decision by NASA at the next gate review (Key Decision Point B) in October 2017.
  • The Exoplanet Standard Definition and Evaluation Team (aka the Standards Team) was formed to provide a transparent and unbiased comparison of exoplanet yields for detection and spectroscopy for the large decadal study missions of the Habitable Exoplanet Imaging Mission (HabEx), the Large Ultraviolet Optical Infrared Surveyor (LUVOIR), and the Origins Space Telescope (OST). A yield estimation tool was released based on module additions to Dimitry Savransky's open-source tool funded under WFIRST Preparatory Science Funding.
  • The Decadal Study large mission concept studies continue to make progress in defining their science case and engineering architecture trades. Each of the large mission studies will address the science of exoplanets or their stars
  • Our Exoplanet Communications Team (ExoComm) continues to produce impactful media and public engagement products, including a new website
  • Looking ahead, we anticipate the final Kepler Objects of Interest and occurrence rate products from Kepler in the spring of 2017, and the continuation of Kepler campaigns through several more campaigns permitted by the remaining fuel onboard the spacecraft. LBTI has a full spring semester planned for the exozodiacal survey. Importantly WFIRST will complete the System Requirements Review and Mission Definition Review on the path to Key Decision Point B in October 2017.
  • A full presentation by me and the Program Chief Scientist, Dr. Karl Stapelfeldt, from the January 2017 ExoPAG meeting is posted here:

It is a privilege to serve with all of you to explore a galaxy of worlds while inspiring our own.

Gary Blackwood, PhD

Manager, NASA Exoplanet Exploration Program

Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology