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Contact: Mary Beth Murrill
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASEMarch 25, 1998
NASA STARTS WORK ON NEW SPACE INFRARED TELESCOPE FACILITY
NASA Administrator Daniel S. Goldin today authorized the
start of work on the Space Infrared Telescope Facility (SIRTF),
an advanced orbiting observatory that will give astronomers
unprecedented views of phenomena in the universe that are
invisible to other types of telescopes.
The authorization signals the start of the design and
development phase of the SIRTF project, which is managed by
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA. Scheduled for
launch in December 2001 on a Delta 7920-H rocket from Cape
Canaveral, FL, SIRTF represents the culmination of more than a
decade of planning and design to develop an infrared space
telescope with high sensitivity, low cost and long lifetime of at
least two-and-a-half to as many as five years.
"The Space Infrared Telescope Facility will do for infrared
astronomy what the Hubble Space Telescope has done in its
unveiling of the visible universe, and it will do it faster,
better and cheaper than its predecessors," said Dr. Wesley
Huntress, NASA's associate administrator for space science. "By
sensing the heat given off by objects in space, this new
observatory will see behind the cosmic curtains of dust particles
that obscure much of the visible universe. We will be able to
study fetal stars, detect other solar systems and study the most
ancient, distant galaxies at the edge of the universe."
Conventional optical telescopes can study stars and other
objects that glow brightly enough to emit light in the visible
portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. However, many objects,
such as planets and unignited stars, do not "shine" in visible or
ultraviolet light. Others that may burn brightly are veiled from
Earth's view behind the vast clouds of dust and gas that populate
Some of the most fascinating objects and processes in the
universe may exist behind these cosmic curtains of dust and gas,
such as black holes, quasars, regions where stars are forming in
galaxies and regions where planets are forming around stars.
Most of these concealed attractions are detectable only with
infrared telescopes, whose unique capability lies in their
ability to sense the heat of dark, faint or hidden objects.
Infrared telescopes also provide the means to study the most
distant objects at the edge of the expanding universe. Optical
and ultraviolet light emitted from stars, galaxies and quasars
since the birth of the universe has shifted, over time and
distance, into the infrared portion of the spectrum. SIRTF will
provide important insights into when and how the first galaxies
and stars formed.
SIRTF, whose design and development is cost-capped at $458
million, will be one of astronomyís most advanced telescopes.
Its unconventional approach uses new technologies, an innovative
mission design and small launch vehicle. It is being developed
on a quick schedule that closely integrates the work of the
contractor and academic teams responsible for development and
delivery. Its design promises high sensitivity and observing
capability along with efficiency of operations and long lifetime.
SIRTF is the fourth and final element in NASA's family of
complementary spaceborne "Great Observatories" that includes the
Hubble Space Telescope, the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory and the
Advanced X-ray Telescope Facility. The project also represents a
bridge to NASA's new Origins program, which seeks to answer
fundamental questions about the birth and evolution of the
universe. SIRTF will lay the groundwork for many investigations
fundamental to the Origins program, such as studies of the birth
and evolution of galaxies, their stars, and searches for planets
that orbit some of those stars.
Lockheed Martin Missiles and Space, Sunnyvale, CA, is
responsible for the spacecraft and for the SIRTF system
integration and testing. Ball Aerospace and Technology Corp.,
Boulder, CO, is responsible for the cryogenic telescope assembly.
The three science instruments are being provided by Dr. Giovanni
Fazio, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, Dr. James Houck,
Cornell University and Dr. George Rieke, University of Arizona.
The SIRTF Science Center, at the California Institute of
Technology in Pasadena, CA, will receive the data from JPL and
process it, and work with the astronomy community. Astronomers
around the world are invited to request observing time on SIRTF.
SIRTF is managed by JPL for NASA's Office of Space Science,
Washington DC. Larry Simmons of JPL is the project manager. The
project scientist at JPL is Dr. Michael Werner. At NASA
Headquarters, the SIRTF program executive is Lia LaPiana. JPL is
a division of Caltech. More information about SIRTF and other
infrared astronomy projects can be found on the web at