The Space Infrared Telescope Facility (SITF) went into the first-ever Earth-trailing orbit this past August.
NASA launches last "great" telescope
The Earth-trailing orbit will keep the telescope away from the reflected light and heat of the Earth so it can see objects farther away. Potential targets for the device include planet-forming discs around stars, brown dwarves, and galaxies billions of light years away. "The Facility will detect objects that have been too cold, too hidden, or too far away to be seen by other space observatories," says Michael Werner, NASA project scientist.
Although the telescope launched "warm," a tank of liquid helium and the coldness of space quickly cooled the infrared sensors - cheaper than chilling them prior to launch. A solar panel serves double duty generating electricity and shielding SITF from the sun. The telescope is expected to be operational for up to 5 years. It is the last of NASA's Great Observatories programs that have included the Hubble Space Telescope, Chandra X-Ray Observatory, and the Compton Gamma-Ray Observatory.
Workers processed the Space Infrared Telescope Facility in clean rooms. When operational, as in an artist's rendering, it will gather infrared images of the galaxy and beyond.