News

SDL to build telescope partnered with NASA — Telescope will help scientists explore space

By Hilary Ingoldsby
The Utah Statesman
December 6, 2004

The Space Dynamics Laboratory has teamed up with NASA to build a new infrared telescope to help scientists explore the universe.

The mission is called the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) and is scheduled to launch in 2008. The project is funded by the Goddard Space Flight Center and managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

The rest of the team includes SDL, Ball Aerospace out of Boulder, Colo., Cal Tech Infrared and Processing and Analysis Center out of Pasadena, Calf., and many other scientists, said Scott Schick, SDL WISE program director.

SDL won the contract after competing with many other organizations, said Harry Ames, SDL deputy director.

The telescope will survey the universe with infrared detectors up to 500,000 times more sensitive than those used in previous expeditions.

The telescope will identify dusty planet-forming discs around nearby stars, find colliding galaxies and identify hundreds of other stars. The telescope will also provide scientists with higher resolution pictures of galaxies and measure more than 100,000 asteroids.

"The scientists expect to identify the closest star to the sun and discover millions of new stars that are just too cold to see in the visible spectrum," Schick said.

"The mission will complete the basic reconnaissance of the universe in the mid-infrared wavelengths, providing a vast storehouse of knowledge that will endure for decades," said Peter Eisenhardt, project scientist for the mission at JPL, in a recent press release.

Ames also said the telescope could even find asteroids on a course for Earth and in turn could protect the Earth.

SDL will receive around $40 million over the next three years from NASA to fund their part of the project. NASA expects the project, as a whole, to cost close to $208 million.

SDL will be responsible for making the science payload for the mission.

The payload is a 40-centimeter tons aperture telescope cooled to almost 10 kelvins, which is equal to -263 degrees Celsius.

The aperture will image the sky onto for one megapixel infrared detectors. Schick said it is similar to the digital cameras that currently exist.

A cryogenic system will be used for the drastic cooling, Schick said. The system will use solid hydrogen.

"It is basically a high performance thermos container that will allow the hydrogen to last up to one year in space to provide cooling for the instrument," Schick said.

The payload will take about three years to fabricate and test, after which SDL will continue to work with the payload through the launch of the mission.

WISE is a part of NASA's medium-class explorer program which is made up of lower cost programs and small to medium-sized missions that can be built, tested and launched in a shorter amount of time than other larger projects.

Currently, more than 70 United States and international space missions have been a part of NASA's Explorer program.

"This is a phenomenal project for SDL to be a part of," Schick said. "The data collected from this experiment will be utilized by scientists for many, many years and we can say we are a part of that legacy."

© Copyright 2004, The Utah Statesman