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NASA Facts Space Infrared Telescope Facility (SIRTF)

NASA Facts Space Infrared Telescope Facility (SIRTF)

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Published by: Bob Andrepont on Feb 17, 2011
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The Space Infrared Telescope Facility (SIRTF),now planned by the National Aeronautics and SpaceAdministration (NASA) for launch as early as 2001,will explore the birth and evolution of the universeand the objects within it with unprecedented sensitivi-ty, viewing phenomenanot seen through otherastronomical tech-niques. The SIRTFmission is managed forNASA by the JetPropulsion Laboratory(JPL), a division of theCalifornia Institute of Technology.Infrared wave-lengths, redder than thehuman eye can see, canbe thought of as heatradiation. The colderinfrared detectors are,the better they can "see"objects in the sky thatglow in the infrared. Inspace, infrared tele-scopes are above thewarmth of Earth’satmosphere, and can becooled to very low temperatures, enabling studies of objects that range from far below room temperature tomany thousands of degrees.SIRTF will be the first space observatory to com-bine such a highly sensitive cryogenically cooled tele-scope with the imaging and spectroscopic power of anew generation of infrared detector arrays. SIRTFwill see through clouds of dust and gas that obscuremuch of the universe from view. It will sense theinfrared radiation, or heat, emitted by objects from theoldest galaxies to forming stars and emerging plane-tary systems. Scientistsexpect the observatoryto help them discoverthe answers to impor-tant questions about theorigin and evolution of the universe, its galaxiesand stars, and to seek out stars like the Sunthat may hold planetslike Earth orbiting aboutthem.SIRTF’s speciallydesigned orbit will com-pletely remove thespacecraft from the heatof the Earth and fromthe obscuring atmos-phere that blocks ourview of most of theinfrared light fromcelestial sources. Theobservatory will seewavelengths of light critical to NASA’s quest for anunderstanding of our origins, allowing astronomers todiscover the basic processes underlying the formationof planets and the birth of stars and galaxies.The National Academy of Sciences designatedSIRTF the highest priority major mission for all of 
Space Infrared Telescope Facility (SIRTF)
NASAFacts
National Aeronautics andSpace Administration
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
California Institute of TechnologyPasadena, CA 91109
 
U.S. astronomy in the 1990s. With U.S. technologydevelopments, innovative engineering and stream-lined mission planning, SIRTF has undergone radicalredesign to meet challenging cost constraints. Theresult is an affordable yet enormously powerful obser-vatory.Astronomers will use SIRTF to explore theinfrared universe with a depth and precision comple-mentary to that achieved by NASA’s other GreatObservatories — the Hubble Space Telescope (HST),the Advanced X-ray Astrophysics Facility (AXAF),and the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory (GRO).SIRTF’s planned launch for a minimum two-and-a-half-year mission beginning in 2001, would permitoverlapping, synergistic observations with companionGreat Observatories HST and AXAF.
SIRTF’s Key Scientific Questions
 How common are planetary systems around  other stars?
Recent discoveries of Jupiter-sized planets aroundother stars have fueled expectations that planetarysystems exist around numerous nearby stars. Datafrom SIRTF will identify the disks of material aroundother stars that signal the existence of emerging orexisting planetary systems. This will provide keyinformation for NASA’s Origins program that seeksultimately to find Earth-like planets elsewhere in ourgalaxy.
What is the energy source responsible for the most luminous objects in the universe?
Colliding galaxies were found by the trailblazingInfrared Astronomical Satellite (IRAS) of the early1980s to be among the most luminous objects in theuniverse, just as bright as quasars. SIRTF studieswould be critical in determining the engine that pro-duces these super-energetic objects, whose ages dateto 90 percent that of the universe. Such informationwill shed new light on the early history of the uni-verse.
Where is the "missing mass" of the universe hidden?
Missing "dark matter", which is unseen but makesits presence felt by its gravitational effects on starsand gas, is a persistent puzzle in astrophysics. SIRTFis designed to search for brown dwarfs and giant"superplanets" that may contain this missing mass.Although smaller than stars, these objects are massivecompared to planet-size bodies and may account forthe vast quantity of unseen material that must exist inour galaxy.
 How did galaxies form and evolve in the earlyuniverse?
SIRTF will have the capacity to study galaxies atthe edge of the universe. These faraway galaxies areso distant that the radiation they emit takes many bil-lions of years to reach Earth and they are receding sorapidly that the radiation is "redshifted" into theinfrared. The light from these objects reaching ustoday reflects events that happened early in the histo-ry of the cosmos. By studying them, SIRTF will beable to see scenes from the early universe.
What lies beyond?
A mission optimized for these four themes isbroadly applicable to a much wider range of astro-physical investigations. The mix of science to be car-2
 
ried out from SIRTF will be defined close to launch,based upon the latest discoveries and theories fromthe astronomical community, including those pro-duced by the Infrared Space Observatory launched in1995 by the European Space Agency. In addition,SIRTF’s great observational capabilities give the mis-sion very high potential for unexpected discoveries.
New Technology, Cost Savings and Partnerships
SIRTF has been recognized as a key element inthe NASA astrophysics program for more than adecade. In that time, the mission has been restruc-tured and redefined to be consistent with the newNASA paradigm of faster/better/cheaper.Technical innovations have played a major role indefining the new SIRTF. Its science focus is sharplydefined. The mission implementation uses a uniquesolar orbit. The Observatory has adopted a new,super-efficient architecture. The science instrumentsemploy state-of-the-art arrays of infrared detectors.Partnerships are being created between the projectand industry to streamline and optimize SIRTF’sdevelopment, integration test and assembly.
State-of-the-Art Infrared Technology
SIRTF’s three instruments (a camera, spectro-graph and imaging photometer) all employ state-of-the-art infrared detector arrays. They represent vastimprovements over previous sensors used in spaceastronomy missions.
q
A Smithsonian AstrophysicsObservatory/Hughes Santa Barbara ResearchSystems/NASA Ames Research Center team has pro-vided a tenfold improvement in SIRTF’s short-wave-length arrays.
q
A Cornell University/Rockwell team developedantimony-doped silicon arrays for measuring the red-shifts of distant galaxies.
q
A University of Arizona/Hughes Santa BarbaraResearch Systems team has produced the first 1,000-element far-infrared array for long-wavelength sur-veys.
New Lightweight Telescope
SIRTF will use a revolutionary new lightweighttelescope fabricated by Hughes Danbury OpticalSystems. The telescope is made of entirely of berylli-um and weighs less than 50 kilograms (110 pounds).The mirror's diameter is 85 centimeters (33 inches).This high-quality, space-qualified telescope holdsgreat promise not only for SIRTF but also for astro-nomical and Earth remote-sensing instruments bothon the ground and in space. The entire spacecraftweighs 850 kilograms (1,870 pounds), is 4 meters (13feet) tall and 2-1/4 meters (7.4 feet) in diameter.
Innovative Telescope Cooling System
SIRTF's architecture substantially differs fromprevious infrared missions. The telescope will belaunched warm and cooled in orbit largely by radiat-ing its heat to space. This approach reduces theamount of cryogen needed to cool the large-aperturetelescope (0.85-meter or 2.7-feet in diameter), allow-ing launch on a Delta launch vehicle. SIRTF requires just 250 liters (66 gallons) of helium for 2-1/2 yearsversus the 500 liters (132 gallons) used for cooling bySIRTF's predecessor, the 10-month-long IRAS mis-3

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