August 25, 2003, Eastern time (August 24, Pacific time)
Purpose: Space-based infrared telescope to study stars, galaxies and planetary discs
The Space Infrared Telescope Facility (SIRTF) is an infrared telescope that will study the
early universe, young galaxies and forming stars, and will detect dust discs around stars,
considered an important signpost of planetary formation.
The mission is the fourth and final observatory under NASA’s Great Observatories program,
which also includes the Hubble Space Telescope, Chandra X-Ray Observatory and Compton Gamma
Ray Observatory. It is also the first new mission under NASA’s Origins program, which seeks
to answer the questions: Where did we come from? Are we alone?
An infrared cousin of the Hubble Space Telescope, the Space Infrared Telescope Facility
consists of a cryogenically cooled telescope with lightweight optics that deliver light to
advanced, large-format infrared detector arrays. It will be launched into orbit around the
Sun, trailing behind Earth, drifting in a benign thermal environment. By using this orbit,
the spacecraft is able to adopt an innovative "warm-launch" architecture, in which only the
instrument payload is cooled at launch. By using special cooling in deep space, SIRTF is
able to carry far less liquid helium than any previous infrared mission, which substantially
reduces mission development costs.
Partnering with JPL are the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, which is
responsible for science operations; Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, Sunnyvale, Calif.;
Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp., Boulder, Colo.; Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory,
Cambridge, Mass.; NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.; Cornell University, Ithaca,
N.Y.; and the University of Arizona, Tucson, Ariz. In addition, science teams have been selected
to represent a number of different universities and/or research organizations.
For more information, see the SIRTF home page.