A NASA satellite that will survey the sky for cosmic treasures must wait at least two days longer before getting a ride to space from Vandenberg Air Force Base.
The satellite now tucked inside a Delta 2 rocket’s nose cone hopes to head to space Dec. 11, a delay blamed on a sibling booster’s scrubbed launch in Florida.
The Delta 4 booster, also built by United Launch Alliance, is targeting liftoff today at the earliest from Cape Canaveral Air Station, Fla. Rainy weather and technical troubles foiled launch attempts on Thursday and Friday.
Officials say they need a few days between the two launches so engineers can review data and so managers involved in both missions can travel cross country.
As of Friday, NASA officials say Vandenbeg’s 12-story Delta 2 rocket is set to blast off from Space Launch Complex-2 no earlier than Friday, Dec. 11, between 6:09:33 to 9:23:51 a.m.
The launch date is subject to last-minute reviews and favorable weather at Vandenberg.
The Vandenberg Delta will carry NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, which will scan the whole sky with infrared light to find perhaps millions of previously undetected celestial objects.
Once in orbit, WISE will circle Earth, scanning the entire sky one-and-a-half times in nine months.
Scientists hope the mission will uncover hidden cosmic objects, including the coldest stars, dark asteroids and the most luminous galaxies.
“The eyes of WISE are a vast improvement over those of past infrared surveys,” said Edward “Ned” Wright, the principal investigator for the mission at UCLA. “We will find millions of objects that have never been seen before.”
The telescope will map the entire sky at four infrared wavelengths with much greater sensitivity than its predecessors, and ultimately catalogue hundreds of millions of objects.
The data — expected to include millions of images — provided by WISE will be used to guide other missions, which will follow up on the finds and get more detailed looks at objects of interest. Future investigations of WISE data are planned with NASA’s Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes, the European Space Agency’s Herschel Space Observatory, and NASA’s upcoming Sofia and James Webb Space Telescope.
“This is an exciting time for space telescopes,” said Jon Morse, director of the Astrophysics Division at NASA headquarters in Washington. “Many of the telescopes will work together, each contributing different pieces to some of the most intriguing puzzles in our universe.”
To do its mission, WISE can’t give off any detectable infrared light, a state that will be achieved by chilling the telescope and detectors to what scientists call ultra-cold temperatures.
The coldest of WISE’s instruments will operate at minus-445 degrees, officials noted. Absolute zero, the point at which objects are as cold as they can be, is minus-459 degrees Fahrenheit.
The Jet Propulsion Laboratory manages the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.
The instrument was built by the Space Dynamics Laboratory in Logan, Utah, and the spacecraft was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. of Boulder, Colo.