Space Dynamics Laboratory Payload Blasts‐Off to Chart the Skies

By Eric Warren
Utah State University Research Foundation
December 14, 2009
WISE launch

Photo by Bill Hartenstein, United Launch Alliance
An United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket with NASA’s Wide‐field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) satellite launches at on December 14 at 6:09 a.m. PST from Space Launch Complex‐2. WISE will scan the entire sky in infrared light, picking up the glow of hundreds of millions of objects and producing millions of images.

VANDENBERG AFB, Calif.—Logan, Utah based Space Dynamics Laboratory (SDL) today announced that the SDL‐built Wide‐field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) instrument has sent and received data following a successful launch of the spacecraft. Initial information indicates that WISE is healthy and operating normally.

In a spectacular pre‐dawn launch, a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket lifted NASA’s 1,457 pound payload from NASA’s Space Launch Complex 2 at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. at 6:09 a.m. (PST). Flying 22,300 miles above the Earth, NASA’s Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System acquired WISE’s first signal approximately 60 minutes after liftoff.

“For decades, SDL has collaborated with NASA to help them accomplish their scientific mission. This launch further validates our commitment to help NASA understand the origins, evolution, and destiny of the universe and to understand the nature of the strange phenomena that shape it,” said John Elwell, SDL’s program manager for the WISE instrument. “WISE will scan the entire sky in infrared wavelengths to find the nearest and coolest stars, the most luminous galaxies in the universe, and to discover and study asteroids in our own solar system.”

SDL manufactured the state‐of‐the‐art infrared instrument to scan the sky with far better sensitivity and resolution than previous space‐based instruments. WISE will capture millions of images and provide scientists with a comprehensive map of the infrared universe that contains hundreds of millions of space objects.

WISE was built to detect heat given off by objects in space ranging in temperature from minus 330 Fahrenheit to 1,300 degrees Fahrenheit. In order to accomplish these measurements, SDL designed the instrument with a 16‐inch telescope and four infrared detectors containing one million pixels each. Each of the detectors is kept cold inside a container filled with frozen hydrogen.

In the coming weeks, SDL will work closely with NASA to ensure all systems are operating normally.

A unit of the USU Research Foundation, the Space Dynamics Laboratory is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. As a leading university‐affiliated applied research and engineering laboratory for aerospace, climate and defense applications, SDL employs more than 400 dedicated professionals in North Logan, Utah and at locations in Colorado Springs, CO., Los Angeles, CA., Albuquerque, NM., Washington, DC, Huntsville, AL., Bedford, MA., and Houston, TX.

JPL manages the Wide‐field Infrared Survey Explorer for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. The principal investigator, Edward Wright, is at UCLA. The mission was competitively selected under NASA's Explorers Program managed by the Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. The science instrument was built by SDL, and the spacecraft was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., Boulder, Colo. Science operations and data processing take place at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Caltech manages JPL for NASA. More information is online at and

Watch Launch Video