The US Department of Defense isn’t known for its charitable giving. So there’s been much chatter this week over the surprise news (to me, in any case) that the agency has gifted NASA with two 2.4-m telescopes. That’s the same size as the Hubble Space Telescope, but with a much bigger field of view (100 times bigger, says the Washington Post).
They were just…. Sitting around. An impulse buy. Bought them in the wrong size. They were last season’s colour. Or something.
Of course, a telescope, even if it’s space qualified and ready to fly, does not an observatory make – and NASA will still have to stump up the cash to build some instruments for them and launch them into space. That costs a lot of money, which is famously in short supply at the agency. So in a sense this “gift” is a poisoned
Particularly excited are the folks with an interest in the WFIRST project. This proposed space-based dark energy (and exoplanet) mission received top space-mission billing in the 2010 Decadal Survey, but was essentially a non-starter due to NASA’s budget problems. With their large field of view, one of these telescopes could perhaps be repurposed for such a mission (at considerable extra cost, of course).
For now this is all speculation, and it’ll be interesting to see what NASA decide to do with their new toys.