Every generation of space watchers has a new set of questions in search of answers. The next generation of telescopes could help us understand space as never before. Space.com reports that the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), expected to launch in 2020, may help us answer some of the greatest mysteries of the known universe. And several other space projects are on deck to do the same.

The Astro2010 Decadal Survey by the National Academy of Sciences recently announced a new “roadmap” for telescopes and space exploration for the 2012 to 2021. It named some of the most promising new telescopes, including the WFIRST. This $1.6 billion tool will look for nearby Earth-like exoplanets and explore the origins of the universe. This marks a change for NASA, as previous searches have not been as concerned with these issues.

The decadal survey also references other new telescopes, such as the $465 million scope called the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope. This telescope, operating from Chile, would scan each region of the sky 1,000 times over 10 years. Other giant telescopes discussed were the $1.1 billion Giant Magellan Telescope for Chile and the $1.4 billion 30-Meter Telescope for Hawaii, as well as the European Extremely Large Telescope. Projects such as NASA's Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) would also receive a budget boost. 

Decadal surveys done by members of the science community are an important part of NASA’s space research because NASA relies on the studies to identify and prioritize issues of space. Through the National Research Council, NASA uses these surveys to look over 10 or more years to determine the best areas for research, observations and future missions. This most recent decadal survey looked at the technological readiness and cost risk of each project studied.

NASA would share some of the costs of these projects with the European Space Agency. However, money remains an issue for many of the proposed projects, as government funding remains tentative. Claire Max is an astronomer at the University of California in Santa Cruz and a member of the Decadal Survey committee. As Max told Space.com, "My concern is that if the federal budget remains very constrained, we won't be able to do any of this stuff." But she is hopeful. According to Max, “This is a chance to exploit those [past discoveries] and still build enough general-purpose facilities so that you can find the big new things for the next decade."

For further reading:

New $1.6 billion telescope will take understanding of space to new levels
Proposed telescope will look for habitable exoplanets and study the nature of dark energy.