In June 2012, NASA announced that it had acquired the use of two sets of space-qualified telescope Large Space Optics systems and supporting components. A Study on Applications of Large Space Optics (SALSO) was conducted during 2012 and early 2013, to identify and characterize potential mission architectures that would optimize the use of these and other NASA assets for addressing a broad range of the Agency’s science, Human Exploration and Operations, and Space Technology Program goals and taking into account higher risk solutions, advanced technologies and lower cost.

The Exoplanet Exploration Program participated in the SALSO study with a concept called ExO: The Exoplanet Observatory. This concept, for a mission using these large space optics for exoplanet studies, was developed though a broad effort by the exoplanet community that was coordinated through the Program. You can download two Exo documents:

  • Concept Paper describing ExO -- submitted on January 7, 2013 in response to the SALSO RFI; a total of 52 scientists and engineers are listed on the author lis
  • Presentation on ExO -- presented at a SALSO Workshop held at MSFC (Huntsville, AL) on February 5-6, 2013. A total of 33 concepts, including several which would conduct exoplanet science, were presented in Huntsville.

    Post-Workshop update - May 30, 2013: The results of the studies were presented to the NASA Administrator and other senior officials across the Agency on May 30, 2013. The Administrator directed the Science Mission Directorate to continue pre-formulation activities for a mission using the 2.4m telescope assets to prepare for a later decision as to whether a WFIRST mission (called AFTA, for Astrophysics Focused Telescope Assets) would be undertaken with these optics. In addition, at that meeting, a coronagraph for direct imaging of exoplanets was added to the pre-formulation activities - see below. No decision on whether to proceed with a future wide field infrared survey mission is expected until early 2016.

    It was decided not to proceed with design studies for the SALSO concepts at this time.

    Astrophysics Focused Telescope Assets (AFTA)
    Since fall 2012, NASA has been studying potential uses of the 2.4-meter telescope assets that were made available to the Agency by the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) in mid-2012. The Astrophysics Focused Telescope Assets (AFTA) study showed that for approximately the same costs, the telescope assets would enable a Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) mission with significantly improved science capabilities relative to the design described in the Astrophysics Decadal Survey. Use of the telescope assets would also enable the addition of an exoplanet imaging instrument to WFIRST that would enable imaging and characterization of planets around nearby stars up to a decade earlier than contemplated in the Decadal Survey. The WFIRST-AFTA Science Definition Team (SDT) completed its Final Report on May 23, 2013.

    Following the delivery of the Final Report, the AFTA SDT was re-constituted to continue supporting pre-formulation activities for AFTA.