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Related Missions

IRAS

IRAS  
The Infrared Astronomical Satellite (IRAS) was the first space-based telescope to attempt a complete survey of the sky at infrared wavelengths.

IRAS detected some 350,000 sources in the mid-infrared (5-40 microns) and far-infrared (40-100 microns), increasing the number of known astronomical objects by about 70%. Among IRAS's discoveries were the first known disk of dust around a star (Vega), six new comets, and a population of "ultraluminous infrared galaxies" that are much brighter at infrared than optical wavelengths.

A joint project of the US, UK, and the Netherlands, IRAS was launched in 1983 and operated for 11 months.



Kuiper Airborne Observatory

  Kuiper
From 1971 to 1995, NASA's Kuiper Airborne Observatory (KAO) was the world's only airborne telescope devoted exclusively to astronomical research. It observed in the infrared range from 1 to 500 microns.

KAO made the first sighting of rings around Uranus and identified an atmosphere on Pluto.

A converted C-141 military cargo plane, it carried a telescope with a 36-inch mirror to an altitude of 45,000 feet, greatly reducing the problem of interference from moisture in Earth's atmosphere.



ISO

ISO  
IRAS's successor was the European Space Agency's Infrared Space Observatory (ISO), which operated from November 1995 to May 1998. ISO observed in the range from 2.5 to 240 microns with greater sensitivity and resolution than its predecessor, and made the startling discovery that water vapor is a common and important part of the interstellar medium.

The satellite found water in the vicinity of stars both at the beginning and end of their lives, in sources close to the center of the galaxy, and in the atmospheres of planets in our Solar System.

ISO also discovered that most ultraluminous galaxies appear to be powered by starbursts rather than by black holes.



SWAS

  SWAS
Launched into low Earth orbit in December 1998, the Submillimeter Wave Astronomy Satellite (SWAS) was a two-year NASA mission to enhance understanding of star formation by studying the composition of interstellar clouds and the means by which they collapse.

SWAS provided the most precise measurements of water vapor in interstellar clouds and established the tightest limits on the maximum amount of molecular oxygen that might be in these clouds.

Herschel will cover 1000 times more frequency "real estate" than SWAS, which observed spectral lines at five specific submillimeter wavelengths: those of water, isotopic water, molecular oxygen, neutral carbon, and isotopic carbon monoxide.



Hubble Space Telescope's NICMOS instrument

NICMOS  
While the Hubble Space Telescope observes primarily at optical wavelengths, the Near-Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer (NICMOS) extended the telescope's reach into the infrared when the instrument was added in 1997.

NICMOS became inactive after two years when the nitrogen ice that cooled the system was depleted. However, it was returned to service in March 2002, when space shuttle astronauts installed a new cryogenic cooling system, extending NICMOS' operational life.



ODIN

  ODIN
Launched in February 2001 with a two-year life expectancy, the Swedish Space Corporation's Odin satellite has a dual purpose: to study star formation and the early solar system, and to study Earth's atmosphere, where it will research the mechanisms behind the depletion of the ozone layer and the effects of global warming. Odin observes at 486-580 GHz and at 119 GHz.


WMAP

WMAP  
Following up on the work of the Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) satellite in 1992, NASA's Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) is designed to map the cosmic microwave background (CMB), the pervasive radiation from the very early Universe.

COBE found that the CMB is amazingly uniform in all directions of the sky, yet discovered subtle patterns that indicate that the Universe's structure, which resembles "bubbles" of galaxies, developed early in its formation. WMAP is mapping the CMB with much greater resolution, sensitivity, and accuracy than COBE, enabling it to paint a much more detailed picture of the Universe.

WMAP was launched in June 2001, and reached the L2 point on October 1 of that year. It will observe for two years, making a complete survey of the sky every six months.



Spitzer Space Telescope

  Spitzer Space Telescope
Launched in August 2003, the Spitzer Space Telescope (formerly known as SIRTF) is the infrared component of NASA's Great Observatories Program. It consists of a 0.85 meter telescope with three cryogenically-cooled instruments that will perform imaging and spectroscopy in the range of 3 to 180 microns. It is expected to be operational for at least 2.5 years.

The Spitzer Space Telescope will search for brown dwarfs and super-planets, and study ultraluminous infrared galaxies, AGNs, debris disks around nearby stars, and the early Universe.



ASTRO-F

ASTRO-F  
Astro-F (formerly IRIS, the Infrared Imaging Surveyor) is the second infrared astronomy satellite of Japan's Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS), which has now been integrated into the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). It builds on the work of Japan's Infrared Telescope in Space (IRTS), which operated for one month in 1995 as part of the multi-purpose Space Flyer Unit satellite.

Currently under development, Astro-F employs a 69 cm telescope cooled to 6 K, which will observe the infrared spectrum from about 2 to 200 microns. Its mission is to investigate the formation and evolution of the galaxies, stars, and planets.



SOFIA

  SOFIA
Scheduled to begin flying in 2004, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) is the successor to the Kuiper Airborne Observatory. Like Kuiper, SOFIA represents a compromise between space-based and ground-based observatories, offering greater accessibility (though less observing time) than a satellite, and less interference from the atmosphere (though more restrictions of size and weight) than a ground-based telescope.

This joint project of NASA and the German Aerospace Center uses a Boeing 747SP aircraft, modified to accommodate a 2.5 meter reflecting telescope. SOFIA will be the world's largest and most powerful airborne observatory, expected to operate three or four nights a week for at least 20 years. It will be used to develop new observational instruments and techniques, and to educate young scientists and teachers in infrared astronomy.

SOFIA will provide access to the entire mid-to-far infrared range of wavelengths, from 5 to 300 microns, part of which is inaccessible from the ground because of atmospheric moisture.



Planck

Planck  
The European Space Agency's Planck spacecraft extends the work of COBE and MAP in studying the structure of the cosmic microwave background as an indicator of the large-scale structure and history of the Universe.

Planck launched in early 2009, sharing a rocket with the Herschel Space Observatory. Its baseline mission called for two complete scans of the sky during 15 months of observations but it has completed five full scans of the sky. It continues on an extended mission, with LFI observations only, through early to mid 2013.




JWST

  JWST
NASA's Next Generation Space Telescope (NGST) has now been named the James Webb Space Telescope and the diameter is now set at 6 m with a launch date of 2013. It is expected to be operational for 5 to 10 years.

JWST will explore the cosmology and structure of the Universe, the origin and evolution of galaxies, the history of the Milky Way and its neighbors, the birth and formation of stars, and the origins and evolution of planetary systems. Its mirror is expected to be from six to eight meters, and will be able to collect light from the earliest galaxies. Its cameras and spectrographs will be sensitive to the visible-to-mid-infrared range between 0.6 and 10+ microns.

JWST will have better image resolution than Herschel and a "darker sky," since it will not pick up far-infrared and submillimeter radiation from dust. But where Herschel will be able to see through most dust clouds, JWST will have to look for views of distant galaxies not blocked by dust.
 
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