August 25, 2003
Following last night's picture-perfect launch, NASA's Space Infrared Telescope Facility is positioned exactly where ground controllers want it to be, trailing behind Earth as it orbits the Sun. The spacecraft is working and communicating well with the Deep Space Network antennas, receiving commands and returning telemetry data.
The spacecraft entered a stand-by mode when its star tracker did not lock on to its planned targets within the expected 60 seconds. This possibility was anticipated, and therefore engineers had already prepared a contingency plan, which has been activated. The star tracker did subsequently lock onto its targets and engineers believe the delay is likely due to higher-than-expected background noise levels.
The operations team is also investigating two thrusters that are somewhat warmer than expected, and some inconsistent telemetry points from the cryogenic telescope assembly.
"These types of anomalies are expected in a space observatory of this size and complexity," said David Gallagher, Space Infrared Telescope Facility project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "The team is ecstatic with the successful launch and the way the mission is progressing overall. We eagerly await the start of science observations."
The next milestone will occur when the telescope's dust cover is opened in five days. This event occurs during the mission's two-month in-orbit checkout, which will be followed by a one-month science verification phase. After that, the science mission will begin a quest to unlock some of the oldest cosmic mysteries, and to look for possible planetary construction zones in discs around other stars.
JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Space Infrared Telescope Facility for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, D.C. Further information about the Space Infrared Telescope Facility is available at http://sirtf.caltech.edu/ .
Contact: Veronica McGregor (818) 354-9452