The Chandra X-Ray Observatory Faces Shutdown In FY2025 Budget

Artist rendition of the Chandra telescope system in deep space. (Credit: NASA / James Vaughn)

The Chandra X-ray Observatory started its mission back in 1999 when Space Shuttle Columbia released it from its payload bay. Originally, it was supposed to serve only a five-year mission, but it has managed twenty-four years so far and counting, providing invaluable science along with the other Great Observatory: the Hubble Space Telescope. Unfortunately, NASA’s FY2025 budget now looks to threaten all space telescopes and Chandra in particular. This comes as part of the larger FY2025 US budget, which sees total funding for NASA increase by 2%, but not enough to prevent cuts in NASA’s space telescope operations.

NASA already anticipated this cut in 2023, with funding shifting to the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope (infrared spectrum, scheduled for 2027). Since Hubble is a joint operation with ESA, any shortfalls might be caught this way, but Chandra’s budget will go from 68.3M USD in FY2023 to 41.4M USD in FY2025 and from there plummeting to 5.2M USD by FY2029, effectively winding down the project and ending NASA’s flagship X-ray astronomy mission. This doesn’t sit well with everyone, with a website called Save Chandra now launched to petition the US government to save the observatory, noting that it still has a decade of fuel for its thrusters remaining and it also has stable mission costs.

Much like Hubble, Chandra is operating well past its original design life and has had to be patched back together on a few occasions. Despite this, both are essential tools for astronomy and related fields, with the loss of either a big blow. Even though Chandra would not be actively decommissioned, its science mission would come to an end, with only a vague hope remaining of an eventual revival in a future budget.

Unfortunately, the scientific community doesn’t have a big voice in the US Congress. Still, those who are in the US can follow the instructions on the Save Chandra website to contact their Congressional Representative or Senator. Other options include signing the community letter to NASA and Congress and, of course, making your dissatisfaction known on social media. With enough of a push from the community, perhaps Chandra can continue to do science until 2030.

Space telescopes sometimes need glasses. Keeping them funded is often a struggle.

30 thoughts on “The Chandra X-Ray Observatory Faces Shutdown In FY2025 Budget

  1. Sounds like politics. Don’t plan cuts for useless things and sya with the budget cut you need to cut usefull things rather than the useless ones to play for more money. Typical fief behavior. It should be stopped.

    1. Of course it’s politics, it’s resource allocation and patronage. Any time this happens it is definitionally politics; I’m afraid you won’t get around that any time soon. The interesting part is if you look closely you can see the real inflation rate instead of the press release numbers.

  2. They should cut the budgets of the NSA, CIA and FBI to zero, and zero all the budgets for their other shady “intelligence” groups and censorship advocates before they cut so much as a penny from space science.

    1. Yeah they should! Who is they? Oh, those people you mentioned and their friends who run this country. Oh well, now what?

      Without a functional understanding of power, knowing what “ought” to happen is useless. I agree, though.

  3. So, to be the obligatory contrarian, how is it that NASA’s getting 2% MORE money, but somehow has to cut things that are already running due to not having enough money? Where’s that extra money going?

    Yes, obviously, the government is wasting way more money on much less useful things in other departments. But this feels like a ploy by NASA to get more money rather than an actual cost-saving measure. It reminds me of how my small hometown used to try to convince everyone to vote for tax increases – the firefighter’s budget would always be cut first, and not the mayors salary. This meant that the managers could vote themselves higher salaries, and when people complained, they’d threaten to cut the actually useful services so we’d agree to higher taxes.

    TL;DR: NASA is cutting the famous telescope budget so it can get sob stories to increase its budget, not because that’s the least useful thing it has.

    1. Ok, re-read the article and saw that I somehow missed the “shifting budget to new telescope” part. Oops. Nevertheless, my other point about government departments cutting the most useful projects first still stands.

      1. When they’ve got viable projects like this, but don’t want to spend the time and money to support them, they should just make them open source and hand the keys over to the public.

  4. It seems to me that with an operating cost of a RELATIVELY low $68M, that the deficit portion of that could easily be born by a major university or three, allowing the science to continue and increasing the educational benefits in the process. At least that’s what I think.
    But what do I know?

    1. I can’t comment on whether SLS is useful or not but the Chandra X-Ray Observatory operating budget does seem like a rounding error on SLS. I wonder if the spacecraft has other problems that would make it less useful going forward.

      1. There aren’t. This whole mess appears to be based on misunderstandings. The claim is that it requires active management to maintain thermal balance and that it makes data analysis harder. Neither is true. See the open letter from the Chandra Director

        The observing efficiency remains high, there is no replacement available for decades for the sharpest X-ray mirrors ever made, and the research remains as vibrant as it ever was. There is enough fuel on board to last a dozen years or more.

    2. I agree completely. I don’t want to hear any complaints from NASA about inadequate funding until they first fix things in-house with the multi-billion dollar SLS program. The SLS is essentially just repurposed Space Shuttle engines and boosters launching an Apollo style capsule. How does that take billions of dollars and more than 1 billion per flight? What’s worse is that at a time when the entire space launch industry is rushing towards reusability, NASA is doing the exact opposite by strapping reusable Shuttle engines onto the SLS and discarding them into the ocean with every flight. And SLS isn’t even capable of taking us back to the moon – NASA has contracted SpaceX to actually ferry SLS astronauts to and from the moons surface using Starship. Completely insane.

      1. This “NASA is inefficient” argument is a red herring. Congress determines the budget, and Congress determines where it is spent. Congress causes the SLS to be less efficient than it might be by spreading out where components are built now, just as Congress decided to put the JSC 880 miles from the KSC back in the day.

    1. SpaceX has burned ~$2.9 billion (with another $1.15 billion on the way) on HLS and is still at least a year away from an unmanned test, maybe more. Let’s not heap accolades on Musk just yet.

  5. “it was supposed to serve only a five-year mission, but it has managed twenty-four years so far ”

    Life-cycle designed for 5 years but approaching 5x that duration essentially means NASA must provide operational support dollars from their budget beyond forecasts. While the data may have value, other assets may provide crossover capabilities satisfactory for continued research with little or no continuity lost.

    One thing I have always observed about scientists, there is never enough toys and even old, tatted toys generate much love in the community. Try taking a baby’s favorite old toy away and screams are guaranteed. Consider the Voyager probes; operational costs may outweigh the data value.

    SpaceX has demonstrated how quickly an effort with a defined objective can rise from nothing to become a premiere provider of technology and hardware all at no cost to taxpayers. (discounting missions for the Fed Gov under contract)

    Staying on target for the design lifecycle, unless specific extension has known positive returns, is a prudent economic policy and directs a limited budget to be applied to new, advanced technology projects.

    As mentioned earlier, Universities may wish to “take over” all costs for these old but still kicking projects. Taxpayers’ dollars only can stretch so far before there is a negative pushback.

    1. Everything gets designed for a 5-year life as part of the conceptual design project. Even Star Trek was a five year mission. That’s the minimum requirement that NASA imposes. The good ones are expected to last longer, much longer.

      In the case of Chandra, it is not “just” a telescope. It is the tent under which almost the whole of US X-ray astronomy thrives. The next flagship mission has not even started to ramp up, and is not expected to launch until at least 2040. Cut off Chandra, and you lose all the expertise, and generations of leadership.

  6. Here are some cuts – ALL human (1960s SPAM in a Can) spaceflight. Incredibly expensive vs scientific return and mainly national prestige (what used to be called d*ck waving) and legacy aerospace lobby related.

    Book: The End of Astronauts: Why Robots are the Future of Exploration (2022)

    My recommended cuts:

    Moon to Mars Transportation System (for SPAM in a Can)
    Orion Program $1.031 billion
    Space Launch System $2.432 billion

    Moon to Mars Lunar Systems Development (for SPAM in a Can)
    Gateway $0.817 billion
    xEVA and Human Surface Mobility Program $0.434 billion
    Human Landing System $1.896 billion

    Human Exploration Requirements & Architecture (for SPAM in a Can) $0.117 billion

    International Space Station (for SPAM in a Can)
    ISS Systems Operations and Maintenance $1.008 billion
    ISS Research $0.261 billion

    Space Transportation (for SPAM in a Can)
    Crew and Cargo Program (crew and cargo for ISS) $1.761 billion

      1. Why robots/probes?
        There exist in human nature a desire to explore the unknown… maybe it is our big monkey brain or just a jackass need to do what has not been. Toward this need, many excuses are created to justify the cost and dangers. Scientist$ are perhaps the worst because they are learned and capture national attention with all those made-up vocabulary words.
        But, in truth, a understanding of our Solar System and an ongoing mapping of rogue asteroids is potentially good knowledge just in the event that a potential asteroid hit on Earth could happen.

        Obviously, to destroy an asteroid requires an enhanced space technology and off-earth radar and communications. No one thinks it a good idea to use a thermonuclear weapon on an asteroid close to earth; rather, logic suggests that a doomsday asteroid should be delt with far from earth in a manner that would alter the course by utilizing inertia impact to divert the collision orbit.

        Robots, autonomous vehicles, and boosters need to be beyond reliable and state-of-the-art. Additionally, many investors think that space objects could provide valuable metals which are in short supply on earth; thus, space mining may be a real thing and one may imagine that sophisticated robots will be required for that endeavor.

        But, other than National Security concerns, private investments should drive the costs and give taxpayers a break.

        1. Sure. But to decide to stop trying when it comes to human spaceflight… To decide all the people stay on Earth never to see a new thing with an actual human eye again…

          That’s too depressing. Better to just let the asteroid hit if that is your best vision for the future.

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