NASA awards SDL $40 million contract to build Next Generation IR Telescope

By Trina Paskett
Space Dynamics Laboratory
November 23, 2004

LOGAN – Teamed with NASA, the Space Dynamics Laboratory (SDL) will be building the next generation infrared telescope to explore, survey and map the universe, in hopes of discovering new stars, galaxies and asteroids that may be on a collision course for Earth.

“SDL will be the major player in finding new stars, new galaxies, and new asteroids,” said Harry Ames, SDL deputy director. “We may even find asteroids that cross Earth’s plane. This mission could ultimately protect Earth.”

Called the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE), the mission has been approved to proceed into the preliminary design phase as the next in NASA's Medium-class Explorer program of lower cost, highly focused, rapid-development scientific spacecraft. The mission will cost NASA approximately $208 million. SDL will receive around $40 million over the next three years. WISE is scheduled to launch in 2008.

“We will see new galaxies,” said Ames. “We are building an infrared instrument that will use the highest resolution to date and looking deeper into space and further back in time than has ever been done before.”

Like a powerful set of night vision goggles, the new space-based telescope will survey the cosmos with infrared detectors up to 500,000 times more sensitive than previous survey missions. It will reveal hundreds of failed stars, or brown dwarfs, some of which may lie closer to us than any known stars.

The telescope will also provide a complete inventory of dusty planet-forming discs around nearby stars and find colliding galaxies that emit more infrared than any other galaxies in the universe. In the end, the survey will consist of more than one million images, from which hundreds of millions of space objects will be cataloged.

“The mission will complete the basic reconnaissance of the universe in mid-infrared wavelengths, providing a vast storehouse of knowledge that will endure for decades," said Dr. Peter Eisenhardt, project scientist for the mission at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, Calif. “This catalogue of data will also provide NASA's future James Webb Space Telescope with a comprehensive list of targets.”

JPL will manage the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer. William Irace of JPL is the project manager. The spacecraft will be built by Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corporation, Boulder, Colorado. Science operations and data processing will take place at the JPL/Caltech Infrared Processing and Analysis Center, Pasadena, Calif. JPL is a division of Caltech.