Habitable Worlds Observatory
Mission typeSpace telescope
WebsiteOfficial website
Start of mission
Launch date2040s (2024-06-16UTC02:40)
 

The Habitable Worlds Observatory (HWO) is a large infrared, optical, and ultraviolet space telescope recommended by the National AcademiesDecadal Survey on Astronomy and Astrophysics 2020.[1] It will be optimized to search for and image Earth-size habitable exoplanets in the habitable zones of their stars, where liquid water can exist, by using a coronagraph to block out the light of their stars, as well as provide broad astrophysics observations.[2] HWO builds upon studies conducted for two earlier mission concepts called the Large Ultraviolet Optical Infrared Surveyor (LUVOIR) and Habitable Exoplanets Observatory (HabEx).

Mission Goals

HWO’s main objective would be to identify and directly image at least 25 potentially habitable worlds. It would then use spectroscopy to search for chemical biosignatures in these planets’ atmospheres, including gases such as oxygen and methane which could serve as critical evidence for life. HWO would also use its high sensitivity and resolution capabilities to trace the evolution of galaxies and other cosmic structures.[3]

The main science themes for HWO are:[2]

Development

In 2023, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) established a Great Observatory Maturation Program (GOMAP) to unite government, industry, and academia to develop the technologies needed for HWO.[3] GOMAP aims to draw on lessons from previous NASA missions to streamline development of the HWO concept and decrease budget and schedule risks for the future mission.

Two groups will guide the GOMAP activities for HWO: a Science, Technology, Architecture Review Team (START) and a Technical Assessment Group (TAG). The START will quantify HWO’s science objectives based on the Decadal Survey’s guidance and outline the observatory and instrument capabilities needed to accomplish them. Meanwhile, the TAG will study architecture options for HWO, identify and assess the mission architectures and technologies needed to enable those options, and evaluate the risks associated with those options.[4]

References

  1. ^ Pathways to Discovery in Astronomy and Astrophysics for the 2020s. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press: National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2023. doi:10.17226/26141. ISBN 978-0-309-46734-6. Archived from the original on 2024-04-19. Retrieved 2024-04-19.
  2. ^ a b "The official Habitable Worlds Observatory website". NASA. December 20, 2023. Archived from the original on 2024-04-26. Retrieved 2024-01-23.
  3. ^ a b "HWO "about" page". NASA. January 1, 2024. Archived from the original on 2024-01-06. Retrieved 2024-01-06.
  4. ^ "NASA Selects Groups to Guide 'Habitable Worlds Observatory' Activities, Invites Community Participation - NASA Science". science.nasa.gov. Archived from the original on 2024-01-11. Retrieved 2024-04-19.