When the space telescope James Webb (JWST) has only shown a small part of the potential that it will display over the coming decades, NASA is already beginning to outline its next project, with which they dream of achieving the long-awaited goal of discovering planets with signs of habitability before the end of this century.
As reported by the magazine Sciencethe agency aspires to launch by 2040 (in the best of forecasts) the so-called Habitable Worlds Observatory (HWO)an instrument that would be located in the same area in which the JWST currently operates (point L2, 1.5 million kilometers from Earth) and that would be capable of operating for much longer than its predecessor thanks to its system upgrade and robotic maintenance.
The project, still in very early stages of development -it does not even have a budget-, arises at the request of the Decadal Survey of Astronomy and Astrophysics, a review of the astronomical literature prepared every ten years by the National Research Council of the United States National Academy of Sciences (NAS).
Among other things, the document calls for NASA to resume its Large Observatories program after the launch of JWST through a device that is capable of detecting signs of life on at least 25 similar exoplanets near Earth. Although 55 potentially habitable worlds have been confirmed to exist in the known universe to date, astronomers believe there could be many more just four light years from our planetand that is why the agency wants to verify it by its own means.
Until now, NASA had presented to the NAS two similar proposals, the observatories HabEx y Luvoir, but the Academy favors a hybrid that combines properties common to both. And this happens, above all, for a project that avoids cost overruns and delays like those that weighed down the launch of the JWST for almost ten years. For this reason, the idea is to take advantage of already existing technologies that pave the way towards a desire that, however, will still have to wait several decades to come to fruition.