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NASA to shut down Spitzer Space Telescope early next year – Spaceflight Now

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This infrared view of the butterfly-shaped W40 nebula, a star-forming cloud of fuel and dirt 1,400 light-years from Earth, was captured by the Spitzer Area Telescope. Credit score: NASA/JPL-Caltech

After a seek for an out of doors funding supply turned up empty, NASA plans to finish observations with the Spitzer Area Telescope in January to conclude a 16-year mission that found exoplanets, studied galaxies within the historic universe, and peered at planets and asteroids in our personal photo voltaic system.

NASA quietly introduced the plan to finish Spitzer’s observations in a blog post earlier this month. Astronomers hoped to maintain Spitzer going till after the launch of the long-delayed James Webb Area Telescope, however the brand new observatory is now scheduled for launch in early 2021, and continues to dominate the price range for NASA’s astrophysics division.

“On January 30, 2020, NASA’s Spitzer Area Telescope will transmit the ultimate science and engineering information to mission management after which be commanded off, ending its superb and shocking mission,” wrote Lisa Storrie-Lombardi, Spitzer’s venture supervisor at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Scientists will archive the ultimate information from Spitzer to be used by future scientists.

“However even after Spitzer ceases transmissions, scientists will proceed making discoveries from its 16 years of knowledge for many years to come back,” Storrie-Lombardi wrote. “Spitzer allows groundbreaking advances in our understanding of planetary methods round different stars, the evolution of galaxies within the close by and distant universe, the construction of our Milky Manner galaxy, the infinite selection within the lives of stars, and the constituents of our photo voltaic system.”

A evaluation of NASA’s working astrophysics missions by an impartial panel of scientists in 2016 ranked Spitzer on the backside of an inventory of six initiatives examined by the board. Whereas the impartial panel, referred to as a senior evaluation, didn’t advocate shutting down any of the working missions, NASA makes use of the senior evaluation reviews to prioritize spending on prolonged missions, in steadiness with expenditures to design, develop and construct new astrophysics probes and telescopes.

The 2016 senior evaluation really helpful NASA proceed working Spitzer till 2019, after the Webb telescope’s then-scheduled launch date. Spitzer escape cancellation in 2014 after venture managers discovered methods to scale back the mission’s working prices.

Thomas Zurbuchen, head of NASA’s science division, stated Might 21 that company adopted steerage from the senior evaluation in deciding when to close down Spitzer.

“Each on occasion, that implies that flip off a mission as a result of the science return is not warranting retaining it going within the context of the opposite missions,” Zurbuchen stated throughout a gathering of the NASA Advisory Council’s science committee. “It’s not that there’s no science return, however there’s much less.”

Spitzer value $11 million to function in fiscal yr 2018.

In 2017, NASA sought information from private entities, akin to tutorial establishments, to take over Spitzer operations after NASA’s funding for the mission ran out. Two organizations submitted proposals to imagine accountability for Spitzer, however they have been unable to safe the required funding, in keeping with Felicia Chou, a NASA spokesperson.

Chou stated Spitzer, which is in an Earth-trailing orbit across the solar, can stay in its present orbit via the photo voltaic system after NASA turns off the mission. Whereas the spacecraft and its devices stay useful, the gap between Earth and Spitzer is rising, which reduces the info flowing from the telescope.

Artist’s idea of the Spitzer Area Telescope. Credit score: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Constructed by Lockheed Martin, Spitzer was the final of NASA’s 4 authentic Nice Observatories to launch, becoming a member of Hubble, the Compton Gamma-Ray Observatory, and the Chandra X-ray Observatory.

Designed for a five-year mission, Spitzer launched on Aug. 25, 2003, aboard a Delta 2 rocket from Cape Canaveral.

Spitzer launched with a provide of super-cold liquid helium to chill its most delicate infrared detectors, which have been designed to picture a number of the coldest reaches of the universe. Since 2009, Spitzer has solely been ready to make use of two of its shorter wavelength imaging bands after working out of cryogenic helium. Detectors within the near-infrared bands don’t have to be chilled to do their work.

Zurbuchen stated NASA is ending the Spitzer mission with a “sense of celebration for a mission that’s exceeding any and all expectations.”

“Spitzer’s prime mission lasted greater than twice the requirement, and I can assert with confidence that nobody anticipated that the observatory would nonetheless be working and doing thrilling science in 2019, the tenth yr of the prolonged mission,” Storrie-Lombardi wrote.

Email the writer.

Observe Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

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