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Contact: Mary Beth Murrill



       NASA today awarded three new contracts toward development of the $443-million Space Infrared Telescope Facility (SIRTF), a high-priority astrophysics mission to explore the birth and evolution of the universe, planned for launch as early as 2001.

       Lockheed-Martin Missiles and Space of Sunnyvale, CA, and Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. of Boulder, CO, were chosen to team with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory to design, develop, test and integrate SIRTF. JPL manages the SIRTF project for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, D.C.

       Ball was chosen to design and develop the cryogenic telescope assembly. Lockheed-Martin was selected to provide the SIRTF spacecraft and, under a separate contract, to perform SIRTF's system-level integration and test.

       The contracts are collectively valued at about $160 million, with $20 million allotted for definition work (Phase B) beginning in October 1996 and continuing for 18 months. Another $140 million would be provided for work during the project's design and development period (Phase C/D), pending Congressional approval in fiscal year 1998.

       "SIRTF will be a major step forward in the design of infrared astronomical space observatories," said Dr. Frank Giovane, SIRTF program executive at NASA Headquarters. " It incorporates the most advanced detector and telescope technology, the result of years of research by American industry. Consequently, SIRTF will far exceed the capabilities of previous infrared telescopes, and I believe it will make major advances in our understanding of the universe."

       Some of SIRTF's innovations include a unique solar orbit (trailing the Earth as it moves around the Sun), state-of-the-art infrared technology, a new, lightweight cryogenic telescope made entirely of beryllium, and a cost-saving telescope cooling system that reduces the amount of cryogen that will be used to maintain the low temperatures required for sensitive infrared observations.

       SIRTF has been designated as the highest-priority major mission for all U.S. astronomy in the 1990s by the National Academy of Sciences, and for more than a decade has been recognized as a key element in the NASA astrophysics program. "In that time, SIRTF has undergone radical redesign to meet challenging cost constraints and to be consistent with the new NASA paradigm of faster, better, cheaper," said Larry Simmons, SIRTF project manager at JPL.

       Rather than award a single contract for development of SIRTF, the contracts were awarded in three specialized areas. "We've broken the contracts into three parts to allow us to form the best possible team to develop the overall observatory using the new concept of an integrated project team rather than the historical systems contractor approach," said Simmons.

       Plans call for SIRTF's initial development activity to take place at JPL with representatives from each of the contractor teams in residence for the early systems definition period through completion of the project's requirements review.

       "Our expectation is that having a NASA/JPL/contractor team assume responsibility for SIRTF will enable us to complete the most capable infrared facility possible within SIRTF's fixed budget," Simmons said.

       Astronomers will use SIRTF to explore the infrared universe with a depth and precision complementary to that achieved by NASA's other great Observatories -- the Hubble Space Telescope, the Advanced X-ray Astrophysics Facility (AXAF) and the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory. SIRTF's planned launch in 2001 would permit overlapping, synergistic observations with both Hubble and AXAF.

       The mission also will provide key data to NASA's new Origins program -- a multifaceted research endeavor to learn the origins of galaxies, stars, planets and the universe as a whole, and to search for Earth-like planets around nearby stars. The SIRTF World Wide Web home page is located at the address

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