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Ottawa, May 30 (Canadian-Media): Canadian Space Agency's plans to participate in a NASA-led space telescope, Canadian astronomers' top priority for the coming decade, would be aborted due to lack of funding, media reports said.
For space scientists and industry partners, this was a blow, which left them to contemplate of a long-awaited strategy from the Trudeau government for promoting Canada’s research-and-development goals in orbit.
Dr Michael Hudson, a professor of astronomy at the University of Waterloo and Canada’s representative on the keystone mission, known as the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope, or WFIRST, learnt of the cancellation of funds earlier this month.
“It’s a gutting feeling,” said Hudson, who had been working on the project since 2013.
Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope. Image credit: Wikipedia
Canada had already spent some $3.1-million in concept studies and technology development related to the instrument and felt it lost a golden opportunity to play a central role in fulfilling WFIRST’s search to determine the nature of dark energy, a mysterious phenomenon thought to be causing the expansion of the universe to accelerate and had planned its launch in the mid-2020s
Astronomers had voiced their concerns with Ottawa, earlier in the week, at a conference in Victoria, that space funding had been declining under Justin Trudeau, Canada's Prime minister.
“So far, there’s been almost no action, and the only action has been arbitrary, mysterious, ill-informed and inappropriate,” said John Hutchings, an emeritus researcher with the National Research Council and chair of the committee that developed the long-range plan for Canada’s community of professional astronomers.
Canadian space agency, said researchers and industry advocates, counted on a stable budget that was more transparent around which projects get funded.
“If we count ourselves as a world-leading country in science, we have to contribute financially, otherwise we’re just going to watch the great discoveries go by,” Dr. Hudson said.
Gilles Leclerc, the agency’s director-general for space exploration, confirmed that Canada was pulling out of WFIRST purely for budget reasons. “It’s that simple and that sad,” he said.
Leclerc added that it will not be possible for Canada to jump back into the project later because of timing.
But the science case for Canada’s involvement in WFIRST was strong.
“You could not have had a better proposal,” he said.
(Reporting by Asha Bajaj)