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WISE (NEOWISE) Mission to Our Solar System WISE (NEOWISE) Mission to Comets WISE (NEOWISE) Mission to Beyond Our Solar System WISE (NEOWISE) Mission to Asteroids

Mission Type: Orbiter
Launch Vehicle: Delta II 7320
Launch Site: Launch Pad: SLC-2, Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.
NASA Center: Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Spacecraft Instruments: 1) four-channel imager
Spacecraft Dimensions: 2.85 m (9.35 feet) tall, 2.0 m (6.56 feet) wide, 1.73 m (5.68 feet) deep
Total Cost: About $300 million dollars, including the Delta-II launch vehicle
WISE Fact Sheet, NASA, 21 Aug. 2009,

NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) (an Explorer mission) is an unmanned satellite carrying an infrared-sensitive telescope. WISE was sent to image the entire sky and provide knowledge about the solar system, the Milky Way and the Universe. Among the objects WISE studied were asteroids, the coolest and dimmest stars and the most luminous galaxies.

Launching on 14 December 2009, WISE scanned the entire celestial sky in infrared light about 1.5 times during its primary mission from January 2010 to February 2011. WISE took about 7,500 images every day and captured more than 2.7 million images in multiple infrared wavelengths. WISE cataloged more than 560 million objects in space, ranging from galaxies faraway to asteroids and comets much closer to Earth.

After completing its prime science mission, the spacecraft ran out of the frozen coolant that keeps its instrumentation cold. (Since objects around room temperature emit infrared radiation, the WISE telescope and detectors were kept very cold (below -430 degrees Fahrenheit /15 Kelvins, which is only 15 degrees Centigrade above absolute zero) by a cryostat -- similar to an ice chest, except it is filled with solid hydrogen instead of ice.) However, two of its four infrared cameras remained operational and were still useful for asteroid hunting. NASA then extended the NEOWISE portion of the WISE mission by four months, with the primary purpose of hunting for more asteroids and comets, and to finish one complete scan of the main asteroid belt.

NEOWISE made the most accurate survey of near-Earth objects (NEOs) to date. During 2010, NEOWISE observed about 158,000 rocky 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. At the completion of the extended mission, the spacecraft was placed in hibernation in case another science opportunity arose.

Beginning in September 2013, NEOWISE will be revived with the goal of discovering and characterizing NEOs. NASA anticipates NEOWISE will use its 40-cm (16-inch) telescope and infrared cameras to discover about 150 previously unknown NEOs and characterize the size, albedo and thermal properties of about 2,000 others. This is a three-year extension.

About the Spacecraft:

Solar panels provide WISE with the electricity it needs to operate -- these solar panels always point toward the sun. WISE orbits several hundred miles above the dividing line between night and day on Earth and the telescope looks out at right angles to the sun; always pointing away from the Earth. As WISE orbits from the North Pole to the equator to the South Pole and then back up to the North Pole, the telescope sweeps out a circle in the sky.

As WISE sweeps along the circle, a small mirror scans in the opposite direction, capturing an image of the sky onto an infrared sensitive digital camera, taking a picture every 11 seconds. Each picture covers an area of the sky three times larger than the full moon. Each picture taken by WISE has one megapixel at each of four different wavelengths that range from five to 35 times longer than the longest waves the human eye can see. When active, data taken by WISE is downloaded by radio transmission four times per day to computers on the ground.


Key Dates
14 Dec 2009:  Launch
Jan 2010 - Feb 2011:  Primary Mission
Sep 2013:  Mission Revived
Status: Extended Mission in Progress
Fast Facts
WISE Facts The WISE telescope (right) will take an image every 11 seconds.

After 6 months the spacecraft will have taken nearly 1,500,000 pictures covering the entire sky.

The spacecraft's coolant is expected to run out after 10 months.
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Last Updated: 25 Apr 2014