WASHINGTON, 18 Nov. 2009. NASA officials are on hand at SuperComputing 2009 at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland, Ore. They are discussing the latest NASA aircraft, Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (Wise), which has been fitted with a sunshade and is scheduled to roll to the pad on Friday, Nov. 20, before launching into space to survey the entire sky in infrared light.
Wise is scheduled to launch no earlier than 9:09 a.m. EST on Dec. 9 from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. It will circle Earth over the poles, scanning the entire sky one-and-a-half times in nine months. NASA officials anticipate the mission will uncover hidden cosmic objects, including the coolest stars, dark asteroids, and luminous galaxies.
"The eyes of Wise are a vast improvement over those of past infrared surveys," says Edward "Ned" Wright, the principal investigator for the mission at UCLA. "We will find millions of objects that have never been seen before."
The mission will map the entire sky at four infrared wavelengths with sensitivity hundreds to hundreds of thousands of times greater than its predecessors, cataloging hundreds of millions of objects, reveals a representative. The data will serve as navigation charts for other missions, pointing them to the most interesting targets. NASA's Hubble and Spitzer Space Telescopes, the European Space Agency's Herschel Space Observatory, and NASA's upcoming Sofia and James Webb Space Telescope will follow up on Wise finds.
"This is an exciting time for space telescopes," notes Jon Morse, NASA's Astrophysics Division director at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "Many of the telescopes will work together, each contributing different pieces to some of the most intriguing puzzles in our universe."
To sense the infrared glow of stars and galaxies, the Wise spacecraft cannot give off any detectable infrared light of its own. This is accomplished by chilling the telescope and detectors to ultra-cold temperatures. The coldest of Wise's detectors will operate at below 8 Kelvin, or minus 445 Fahrenheit.
"Wise is chilled out," jokes William Irace, the project manager at JPL. "We've finished freezing the hydrogen that fills two tanks surrounding the science instrument. We're ready to explore the universe in infrared."
JPL manages Wise for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.
The mission was competitively selected under NASA's Explorers Program managed by the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.
The science instrument was built by the Space Dynamics Laboratory in Logan, Utah, and the spacecraft was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. in Boulder, Colo. Science operations and data processing take place at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.