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The Origins Space Telescope: Scientific Motivation, a Mission Concept, and Plans for Further Study Leading to the 2020 Decadal Survey in Astrophysics

Dr. David Leisawitz, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD
When Oct 04, 2017
from 10:30 AM to 12:00 PM
Where USNO, Building 56, Large Conference Room
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Time:  10:30 (coffee/cookies);  Talk 11:00-12:00 Noon.

Abstract:  The Origins Space Telescope (OST) is one of four large missions currently under study in advance of the next Astrophysics Decadal Survey. As befitting a NASA flagship observatory, it will have vast scientific discovery potential and serve the international astronomical community, but the telescope’s design is driven by a few key scientific objectives: to measure the buildup of heavy elements and dust in the early universe, which altered structure development, star formation, and enabled the formation of planets like ours; to measure biosignatures and find conclusive evidence of the presence or absence of a life signature on a statistically interesting number of exoplanets; and to characterize protoplanetary disks and their water content, to aid in understanding how Earth got its oceans. These science priorities were established by a Science and Technology Definition Team, which engages and aspires to represent the general astronomical community. During the past year, an initial mission concept was developed by a Study Office and engineering team based at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, working in collaboration with international study partners, industry partners, and engineers located at other NASA centers. This presentation will focus on OST mission Concept 1, but will also outline plans for a less ambitious second concept, which recently became the focus of our study effort. By describing the OST approach to mission concept development, I will hope to convey a sense of the teamwork and coordination needed to conduct such a study, and the importance of innovation as well as heritage and lessons from earlier generations of space missions.

Brief Bio:  Dr. Leisawitz earned a BS in Physics from RPI in 1979 and a PhD in Astrophysics from UT Austin in 1985. He was an NRC postdoc under the tutelage of Dr. Michael Hauser at NASA Goddard, and after a brief stint at Penn State, returned to Goddard as a civil servant in 1993. He served as COBE Deputy Project Scientist, PI or study lead for several far-IR mission concepts, including the Space Infrared Interferometric Telescope (SPIRIT), and Mission Scientist for NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE). He is PI for the Wide-field Imaging Interferometry Testbed, NASA Study Scientist for the Origins Space Telescope, and Chief of the Science Proposal Support Office at Goddard. Dr. Leisawitz is one of Dr. John Mather’s many mentees, and is currently mentor himself to a postdoc and a graduate student, both of whom are working on the interferometry project. He is very fond of mentoring, teamwork, and engaging the public in astronomical and philosophical discourse.

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