WISE Telescope To Be Resurrected for Three-year Asteroid Hunt

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WASHINGTON — NASA will revive the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) telescope, idle since 2010 after exhausting its supply of hydrogen coolant, for a three-year asteroid-hunting mission beginning in September, the space agency announced Aug. 22. 

WISE, a $320 million observatory built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. of Boulder, Colo., around an infrared telescope supplied by the Space Dynamics Laboratory of Logan, Utah, will use its two remaining infrared detectors to search for asteroids within 45 million kilometers of Earth’s orbit. WISE will also characterize the size, shape and orbital quirks of the asteroids it spots, NASA said in a press release. 

WISE will be scanning for asteroids potentially hazardous to Earth, and also for small space rocks that might be suitable for the Asteroid Redirect Mission NASA is contemplating, the agency said. The latter mission involves using a robotic spacecraft to nudge an asteroid roughly 10 meters in diameter into lunar orbit, where it could be visited next decade by astronauts using the Space Launch System rocket and Orion crew capsule NASA is building. 

WISE’s original mission was to scan for faraway comets, asteroids and galaxies. The telescope’s coolant ran out in 2010, after which NASA approved the NEOWISE extended mission to scan for nearby asteroids. The three-year mission just approved would be led by the same team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., that was in charge of the NEOWISE mission.

Ball Aerospace would have one full-time employee on the project, spokeswoman Roz Brown told SpaceNews in July.

WISE’s new three-year mission will cost about $18 million, according to Lindley Johnson, program executive for NASA’s Near-Earth Object Observations Program.