The mission is the fourth and final observatory under NASA's Great Observatories program, which also includes the Hubble Space Telescope, Chandra X-Ray Observatory and Compton Gamma Ray Observatory. It is also the first new mission under NASA's Origins program, which seeks to answer the questions: Where did we come from? Are we alone?
An infrared cousin of the Hubble Space Telescope, the Spitzer Space Telescope consists of a cryogenically cooled telescope with lightweight optics that deliver light to advanced, large-format infrared detector arrays. It was launched into orbit around the sun, trailing behind Earth, drifting in a benign thermal environment. By using this orbit, the spacecraft is able to adopt an innovative "warm-launch" architecture, in which only the instrument payload is cooled at launch. By using special cooling in deep space, Spitzer is able to carry far less liquid helium than any previous infrared mission, which substantially reduces mission development costs.
Partnering with JPL are the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, which is responsible for science operations; Lockheed Martin Space Systems Co., Sunnyvale, Calif.; Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp., Boulder, Colo.; Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, Cambridge, Mass.; NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.; Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y.; and the University of Arizona, Tucson, Ariz. In addition, science teams have been selected to represent a number of different universities and/or research organizations.
Purpose: Space-based infrared telescope to study stars, galaxies and planetary disks
Launch: August 25, 2003, Eastern time (August 24, Pacific time)