New IR telescope paces NASAs electronics wish list

WASHINGTON - The plan by NASA leaders to develop new space-based astronomical equipment to augment the Hubble space telescope and to spend nearly half a billion dollars on research and technology bodes well for advanced electronics work.

Apr 1st, 1997

By John McHale

WASHINGTON - The plan by NASA leaders to develop new space-based astronomical equipment to augment the Hubble space telescope and to spend nearly half a billion dollars on research and technology bodes well for advanced electronics work.

Officials of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Space Science division in Washington unveiled their 1998 budget request in February where they outlined plans to build a Space Infrared Telescope Facility (SIRTF), conduct a space interferometry Mission (SIM), and spend $151.2 million for advanced space technologies and $311.2 million for supporting research and technology (SR&T).

NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin says he is submitting a stable space agency budget request for the first time in years. The projected fiscal year 1998 budget is $13.5 billion, $13.4 billion for 1999, and $13.2 billion for 2000.

Electronics-related goals of the SR&T program include: developing advanced instruments; strengthening sensor and instrument technology; and analyzing data from aircraft, balloons, rockets, and spacecraft.

The advanced space technology program`s primary goal is to provide technologies for future space missions and to help support the U.S. space technology base through industry partnerships.

The new budget, if enacted, also would call for:

- spending $2.1 billion in 1998 for developing the international space station;

- spending nearly $3 billion in 1998 on the space shuttle;

- accelerating the pace for the Mars Surveyor Program, estimated at $139.7 million for 1998, assuring a return mission by 2005;

- developing an intelligent spacecraft and science instruments to fly close by Pluto and the sun, and return samples from a comet; and

- pursuing astrobiology research into the formation and early evolution of the simplest forms of life in the universe.

The estimated $81.4 million SIRTF program would launch in 2013 to explore the cosmos through the infrared portion of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Space-based infrared sensors would enable astronomers to detect the radiation from objects that are too cool for optical and ultraviolet sensors to find. This kind of sensor could penetrate into dusty regions, and detect cosmic expansion, which shifts ultraviolet and visible light from distant sources into the infrared spectral region. SIRTF is expected to involve a cryogenically-cooled telescope.

SIM, meanwhile, is scheduled for launch in 2003, and will map the stars using interferometry, and is the forebear of the Terrestrial Planet Finder.

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