SAN FRANCISCO — As scientists pore through hundreds of thousands of images captured by the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) since its mid-December launch, a senior NASA review panel is evaluating a proposal to keep the space telescope in service through January 2011 — three months longer than initially planned. That extension would allow WISE to conduct a second complete pass of the sky and would lead to the discovery of additional stars, asteroids and comets, NASA officials said.
All systems onboard the WISE spacecraft built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. of Boulder, Colo., and the infrared telescope built by the Space Dynamics Laboratory of Logan, Utah, are in excellent condition, according to Bill Irace, WISE project manager at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. Prior to its Dec. 14 launch, NASA officials expected WISE to remain in operation for 10 months before depleting its stock of hydrogen needed to cool the spacecraft’s telescope and detectors. Based on current hydrogen supplies, WISE mission officials now expect the hydrogen to last into November, or about a month longer than originally estimated. WISE is able to detect the faint glow of distant stars, comets and asteroids because its instruments have been chilled to the point where they produce no detectable infrared light.