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NASA’s Thomas Zurbuchen Orders Design Modification Study for WFIRST Space Telescope

Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of the NASA‘s Science Mission Directorate, has urged the Goddard Space Flight Center to study potential design changes on the agency’s future space observatory to address the results of an independent review.

The design modification study is intended to reduce the cost and complexity of the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope program to meet the project’s original $3.2 billion cost estimate, Zurbuchen told GSFC Director Chris Scolese in a letter published Friday.

Zurbuchen ordered the study in response to the findings of an independent review by the WFIRST Independent External Technical/Management/Cost Review team.

He established WIETR in April 2017 to examine whether the WFIRST mission requirements are achievable and are aligned with available resources.

WIETR validated that the lifecycle cost estimate for WFIRST has increased to $3.6 billion from $3.2 billion.

The management agreement signed at the start of the program for lifecycle cost and budget profile are inconsistent with the provided funding profile; additional scope and requirements; and the risk classification for the mission, the review found.

WIETR recommended NASA to procure additional engineering development hardware, spare hardware and analysis to elevate WFIRST from its Class B risk classification, because most “strategically important” NASA projects with similar investment and risk levels are Class A missions.

Zurbuchen ordered to retain the basic architecture of WFIRST; implement mission risk classification according to WIETR’s findings; downsize the widefield instrument; and reduce the coronagraph instrument and treat it as a technology demonstration instrument.

He also directed the program to lessen science investigations costs and consider the use of additional commercial subsystems and components.

Zurbuchen assigned Paul Hertz, NASA director of the astrophysics division within the Science Mission Directorate, to work with GSFC on the implementation of a WFIRST management process that aligns with WIETR’s recommendations.

GSFC and the WFIRST program are slated to present the design modification study at the Systems Requirements Review/Mission Design Review in February 2018.

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