PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICE
JET PROPULSION LABORATORY
CALIFORNIA INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY
NATIONAL AERONAUTICS AND SPACE ADMINISTRATION
PASADENA, CALIF. 91109. TELEPHONE (818) 354-5011
Contact: Jane Platt
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASENovember 12, 1996
SPACE INFRARED TELESCOPE FACILITY TAKES A STEP FORWARD
NASA's Space Infrared Telescope Facility (SIRTF) has moved
one step closer toward its journey into space to explore the
birth and evolution of the universe.
The high-priority astrophysics mission has successfully
completed its preliminary analysis phase--known in the aerospace
industry as Phase A--and now begins its definition phase, known
as Phase B. NASA granted the approval after an independent
review board appointed by the agency found the SIRTF mission's
scientific objectives are achievable with the available
resources. In this next phase, the mission's preliminary design
will be developed.
"This is a prime example of NASA's 'faster, better, cheaper'
approach to space exploration," said SIRTF Project Manager Larry
Simmons. "Through innovation and new technology, we've reduced
the cost while still providing the performance of earlier
telescopes. The National Academy of Sciences has identified
SIRTF as the highest-priority major U.S. astronomy mission for
The $434-million telescope facility will complete NASA's
Great Observatories Program. As envisioned in the early 1980s,
the NASA plan called for a suite of space telescopes capable of
covering a wide range of the electromagnetic spectrum. The other
observatories in this family include the Hubble Space Telescope,
the Advanced X-ray Astrophysics Facility (AXAF) and the Compton
Gamma Ray Observatory. SIRTF, with a planned launch in 2002,
will overlap the operation of Hubble and AXAF and enable
"By putting SIRTF into space, we'll be able to detect the
infrared part of the spectrum with unprecedented sensitivity,"
SIRTF Project Scientist Mike Werner said. "This will allow us to
answer questions about the early universe and dark matter which
have so far not been achievable. We'll be able to determine
whether stars which appear dim in visible light appear bright in
the infrared due to the presence of a proto-planetary disk."
In addition to its role in the Great Observatories Program,
SIRTF also marks the first major step in NASA's Origins Program,
a series of missions designed to study the formation and
evolution of galaxies, stars, planets and the entire universe.
The SIRTF mission is managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion
Laboratory, Pasadena, CA, for the agency's Office of Space
Science, Washington, D.C. The project team includes Lockheed
Martin Missiles and Space of Sunnyvale, CA, which will provide
the spacecraft and perform SIRTF's system-level integration and
test, and Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. of Boulder, CO,
which will design and develop the cryogenic telescope assembly.
SIRTF's three instruments are being provided by a trio of
principal investigators, one each from Cornell University,
Ithaca, NY, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, Cambridge, MA
and the University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ.
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 used to maintain the low
temperatures needed for sensitive infrared observations. NASA
will request approval to begin SIRTF's design and development
(Phases C/D) in fiscal year 1998.
Additional information can be obtained on the SIRTF World
Wide Web home page at http://sirtf.jpl.nasa.gov/sirtf/home.html
and on the Origins home page at
[Note to Editors: An artist's rendering of SIRTF is available by
calling the JPL Public Information Office.]