Delta 2 Successfully Lofts NASA Infrared Telescope

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WASHINGTON — Following a nearly weeklong delay, NASA’s new asteroid-hunting space telescope was launched Dec. 14, 2009, from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., atop a United Launch Alliance Delta 2 rocket.

Known as the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE), the spacecraft will spend 30 days in on-orbit checkout and calibration before beginning a 10-month mission circling the Earth over the poles and scanning the complete sky at infrared wavelengths to uncover hidden cosmic objects, including cool stars, dark asteroids and luminous galaxies.

WISE previously was slated for launch Dec. 9. An official at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida said Dec. 4 that the date change was driven by a delay in launching the U.S. Air Force’s Wideband Global Satcom-3 communications satellite, which lifted off Dec. 5 atop a United Launch Alliance Delta 4 from nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

The $320 million WISE project, managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., was competitively selected under NASA’s Explorers Program, which is overseen by the agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. The science instrument was built by the Space Dynamics Laboratory in Logan, Utah, and the spacecraft was built by Boulder, Colo.-based Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp.