NASA Telescope Re-activated to Seek Possible Asteroid Mission Destinations
NASA will bring its Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, a 16 inch space telescope, out of retirement in September to scan the solar system for potential destinations for the agency’s proposed Asteroid Retrieval Mission — an ambitious bid to corral a small asteroid into orbit around the moon, where it could be explored by U. S. astronauts.
WISE was launched in 2009 and deactivated two years ago.
As part of the observatory’s new assignment, it will attempt to discover 150 new asteroids that circle the sun close to the Earth’s orbital trajectory and better characterize about 2,000 others that might pose a collision threat to the Earth. Some of the new discoveries could become candidates for a robotic mission to rendezvous with and snag an asteroid that could be redirected into lunar orbit. NASA’s Asteroid Retrieval Mission, proposed as part of NASA’s 2014 budget, would establish a destination for astronauts assigned to the first piloted mission of the Orion/Space Launch System combination in 2021.
“The WISE mission achieved its mission’s goals and as NEOWISE extended the science even further in its survey of asteroids. NASA is now extending that record of success, which will enhance our ability to find potentially hazardous asteroids, and support the new asteroid initiative,” John Grunsfeld, NASA’s associate administrator for science in Washington, said in a statement. “Reactivating WISE is an excellent example of how we are leveraging existing capabilities across the agency to achieve our goal.”
WISE will cost about $5 million a year to operate in post retirement.
During its prime mission, and a follow on called NEOWISE, the infrared observatory:
** Captured more than 2.7 million images in multiple infrared wavelengths and cataloged more than 560 million objects in space, ranging from galaxies faraway to asteroids and comets much closer to Earth.
**Observed about 158,000 rocky asteroid like bodies out of approximately 600,000 known objects. Discoveries included 21 comets, more than 34,000 asteroids in the main belt between Mars and Jupiter, and 135 near-Earth objects.
“The team is ready and after a quick checkout, we’re going to hit the ground running,” said Amy Mainzer, NEOWISE principal investigator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., which manages the WISE spacecraft mission.