Emily LakdawallaDec 14, 2009

Congratulations to the WISE team on a successful launch!

It was worth my while to get up at 5:15 my time this morning -- I saw a flawless launch of a Delta II from Vandenberg Air Force Base, carrying the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) into orbit. As I've described before in this space, WISE is primarily an astronomy mission but as it surveys the entire sky repeatedly in infrared wavelengths, it is also expected to discover thousands of dim asteroids and nearby brown dwarfs. And if there's another Neptune or Jupiter in the outermost reaches of our solar system, WISE should be able to detect it. (Sadly another Earth or Mars-sized body, if such exists, would be too cold for WISE to see at its particular wavelength sensitivities.)

The launch broadcast on NASA TV saw the spacecraft through an apparently perfect launch, second stage firing, insertion into science orbit around Earth, and separation of the spacecraft from the second stage today. A later update on NASA's website indicates that the most critical step after launch -- the blowing of some pyros that allow vaporized hydrogen to vent from the spacecraft's cryostat -- has taken place successfully, and the solar panels are now providing power.

What's next for WISE? There's a one-month commissioning phase before science starts. According to the launch press kit (like all such documents, really informative and worth the download) the main imaging instrument gets turned on in five days. Sixteen days after launch, the cryostat cover will be blown off. Then there are two weeks of checkouts of instruments and systems, followed by a nine-month nominal mission. That nine months will allow them to perform 1.5 complete sky surveys. It's a bit early to discuss extended missions, but I think there is every expectation that, after this successful launch with no obvious issues, WISE's coolant should last long enough to perform two complete sky surveys. Best of luck to the team that the mission continues to perform this well!

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