Anticipating the future for exoplanet exploration - a Coronagraph Instrument on the WFIRST observatory
The Coronagraph Instrument (CGI) is one of two instruments on the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), a NASA project now in the design (Phase B) stage and scheduled for launch in 2025. The CGI will demonstrate in space, for the first time, key technologies necessary for future Earth imaging missions, including precision optical wavefront control with deformable mirrors, sensitive photon-counting imaging detectors, selectable coronagraph observing modes, low-resolution integral field spectroscopy, advanced algorithms for wavefront sensing and control, high-fidelity integrated spacecraft and coronagraph modeling, and post-processing methods to extract images and spectra. Following the recommendations of the Astro2010 decadal survey, the CGI is intended to demonstrate new technologies that are key enablers for the next generation of Earth-observing exoplanet observatories in space. CGI is designed to demonstrate space coronagraphy at sensitivity levels of Jovian-mass planets and faint debris disks in reflected starlight.
Following initial commissioning and formal technology demonstrations in the first year of operations, NASA envisions a Participating Science Program that engages the general exoplanet community in high-contrast direct imaging astronomy. Here, we describe the science that CGI may achieve, how this science will advance community goals in exoplanet astronomy, and how it can validate key technologies for future exoplanet missions, now envisioned as HabEx and LUVOIR.