Policy ForumAstrophysics

A Dark Age for Space Astronomy?

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Science  08 Jul 2011:
Vol. 333, Issue 6039, pp. 161-162
DOI: 10.1126/science.1206409

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Artificial satellites have given astronomers access to hidden portions of the electromagnetic spectrum and dramatically changed our perception of the universe. Space-based astronomy remains an integral part of contemporary research, resting on powerful telescopes developed by major space agencies—the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the European Space Agency (ESA), and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). Together, these telescopes encompass the whole electromagnetic spectrum: e.g., Fermi observatory and International Gamma-Ray Astrophysics Laboratory (INTEGRAL) at gammaray energies, Chandra, and X-ray Multi-Mirror Mission (XMM)–Newton at x-rays, Hubble at near-ultraviolet and visual wavelengths, and Herschel and Planck in the infrared and submillimeter domain. Although all of these are now in operation, some will reach the end of their lifetimes during the next 5 years. In the high-energy domain, no major x-ray and gamma-ray observatories will be available to replace XMM-Newton, Chandra, INTEGRAL, and Fermi (1).