Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope - Astrophysics Focused Telescope Assets
General information
Organization NASA
Launch date 2024, assuming 2017 start
Mission length 6 years for baseline science
Mass 6,481 kg (14,288 lb) (current best estimate, without margin)
Type of orbit Geosynchronous orbit
Orbit height 42,164 km (26,199 mi)
Orbit period 1 sidereal day
Location 28.5 degree inclined
(Geosynchronous orbit)
Telescope style Three-mirror anastigmat
Wavelength visible and near-infrared
Diameter 2.4 m (7 ft 10 in)

The Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) is a proposed infrared space observatory which was selected by National Research Council committee as the top priority for the next decade of astronomy.

The design of WFIRST is based on one of the proposed designs for the Joint Dark Energy Mission between NASA and DOE. WFIRST adds some extra capabilities to the original JDEM proposal, including a search for extra-solar planets using gravitational microlensing.[1] WFIRST will also attempt to detect the nature of dark energy.[2] In its present incarnation, a large fraction of its primary mission will be focused on probing the expansion history of the Universe and the growth of cosmic structure with multiple methods in overlapping redshift ranges, with the goal of precisely measuring the effects of dark energy, the consistency of General Relativity, and the curvature of spacetime.

The original design of WFIRST (Design Reference Mission 1), studied in 2011-2012, featured a 1.3 m (4 ft 3 in) diameter unobstructed three-mirror anastigmat telescope. [3] It contained a single instrument, a visible to near-infrared imager/slitless prism spectrometer. In 2012, another possibility emerged: NASA could use a second-hand National Reconnaissance Office telescope to accomplish a mission like the one planned for WFIRST. NRO offered to donate two telescopes, the same size as the Hubble Space Telescope with a wider field of view.[4] This mission concept, called WFIRST-AFTA (Astrophysics Focused Telescope Assets), is being matured by a scientific and technical team;[5] this mission is now the only present NASA plan for the use of the NRO telescopes.[6] The mission will remain in this 'pre-formulation' phase until at least early 2016.[7] The WFIRST-AFTA baseline design now includes a coronagraph to enable the direct imaging of exoplanets.[8]

As of March 4, 2014, the President's FY15 budget request includes a line item for WFIRST/AFTA development, including a budget ramp-up consistent with the mid-2020s launch date.[9] The study phase is led by a team at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. The Project Scientist for WFIRST is Neil Gehrels; the Study Manager is Kevin Grady; the Program Scientist is Dominic Benford; the Program Executive is Lia Lapiana; the Science Definition Team is jointly led by Gehrels and David Spergel.

Science objectives

  • Answer basic questions about dark energy: Is cosmic acceleration caused by a new energy component or by the breakdown of General Relativity on cosmological scales? If the cause is a new energy component, is its energy density constant in space and time, or has it evolved over the history of the universe? WFIRST will use three independent techniques to probe dark energy:
  • Complete a census of Exoplanets to help answer new questions about the potential for life in the universe: How common are solar systems like our own? What kinds of planets exist in the cold, outer regions of planetary systems? – What determines the habitability of Earth-like worlds? This census makes use of a technique that can find exoplanets down to a mass only a few times that of the Moon:
  • Establish a Guest investigator mode enabling survey investigations to answer diverse questions about our Galaxy and the universe.
  • Provide a coronagraph for exoplanet direct imaging that will provide the first direct images and spectra of planets around our nearest neighbors similar to our own giant planets.

WFIRST-AFTA will have a two instruments. The Wide-Field Instrument (WFI) is a 288-megapixel camera with a 0.28 square degree field of view providing multi-band near-infrared (0.7 to 2.0 micron) imaging using a HgCdTe focal-plane array with a pixel size of 110 milliarcseconds. It includes a grism for wide-field slitless spectroscopy and an integral field spectrograph for small-field spectroscopy. The second instrument is a high contrast coronagraph covering shorter wavelengths (0.4 to 1.0 microns) using novel starlight-suppression technology. It is intended to achieve a part-per-billion suppression of starlight to enable the detection of planets only 0.1 arcseconds away from their host stars.


  1. ^ National Research Council (2010). New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics. Washington, D.C.: National Research Council.  
  2. ^ WFIRST Wide-Field Infrared Telescope Home Page, http://wfirst.gsfc.nasa.gov/about/
  3. ^ WFIRST Science Definition Team Final Report, 2012-08-15, retrieved 2013-09-10 
  4. ^ "Ex-Spy Telescope May Become a Space Investigator - NYTimes.com". 2012-06-04. Retrieved 2012-06-10. 
  5. ^ WFIRST-AFTA SDT Final Report, revision 1, 2013-05-23, retrieved 2013-09-10 
  6. ^ Dan Leone (2013-06-04). "Only NASA Astrophysics Remains in Running for Donated NRO Telescope — For Now; SpaceNews article". Retrieved 2013-09-10. 
  7. ^ Paul Hertz (2013-06-04), NASA Astrophysics presentation to American Astronomical Society, retrieved 2013-09-10 
  8. ^ NASA (2014-04-30). "WFIRST Science Definition Team Interim Report". Retrieved 2014-08-28. 
  9. ^ Beth Robinson (2014-03-04). "Presentation by NASA CFO Beth Robinson". Retrieved 2014-03-04. 

External links

  • WFIRST-AFTA page at Goddard Space Flight Center site
  • WFIRST Science Data Center page at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center (IPAC)
  • Astro2010 Report Release Presentation PDF
  • $1.6 Billion Telescope Would Search Alien Planets and Probe Dark Energy — Space.com
  • The WFIRST/AFTA astrophysics mission: bigger and better for exoplanets, Tom Greene
  • WFIRST: Uncovering the Mysteries of the Universe YouTube