WASHINGTON — Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va., will launch a small sun-watching telescope for NASA in December 2012 under a $40 million contract the U.S. space agency announced June 8.

The science satellite, the Interface Region Imaging Spectrometer (IRIS), will fly aboard an air-launched Pegasus XL rocket in a mission originating from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.

Developed by the Lockheed Martin Advanced Technology Center in Palo Alto, Calif., IRIS is equipped with an ultraviolet telescope and spectrograph to make detailed measurements of the flow of energy and plasma through the sun’s atmosphere and heliosphere.

Alan Title, the IRIS principal investigator at the Lockheed Martin Advanced Technology Center, told Space News last year that the 3-meter long spacecraft would complement observations made by the Solar Dynamics Observatory, a much larger and more expensive NASA satellite launched in February on a 5- to 10-year mission.

IRIS was one of two projects NASA selected in June 2009 for development under its Small Explorer series of space science missions. The other project, the Gravity and Extreme Magnetism Small Explorer, is being built for NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., by Orbital and is slated to launch in 2014, with the Pegasus XL being a likely launcher candidate. Both projects are cost capped at $105 million, not including launch.


Brian Berger is editor in chief of SpaceNews.com and the SpaceNews magazine. He joined SpaceNews.com in 1998, spending his first decade with the publication covering NASA. His reporting on the 2003 Space Shuttle Columbia accident was...