Over 3000 exoplanets and hundreds of exoplanetary systems have been detected to date and we are now rapidly moving
toward an era where the focus is shifting from detection to direct imaging and spectroscopic characterization of these
new worlds and their atmospheres. NASA is currently studying several exoplanet characterization mission concepts for
the 2020 Decadal Survey ranging from probe class to flagships. Detailed and comprehensive exoplanet characterization,
particularly of exo-Earths, leading to assessment of habitability, or indeed detection of life, will require significant
advances beyond the current state-of-the-art in high contrast imaging and starlight suppression techniques which utilize
specially shaped precision optical elements to block the light from the parent star while controlling scattering and
diffraction thus revealing and enabling spectroscopic study of the orbiting exoplanets in reflected light. In this paper we
describe the two primary high contrast starlight suppression techniques currently being pursued by NASA: 1)
coronagraphs (including several design variations) and 2) free-flying starshades. These techniques are rapidly moving
from the technology development phase to the design and engineering phase and we discuss the prospects and projected
performance for future exoplanet characterization missions utilizing these techniques coupled with large aperture
telescopes in space.
The Spitzer Space Telescope (formally known as SIRTF) was successfully launched on August 25, 2003, and has completed its initial in-orbit checkout and science validation and calibration period. The measured performance of the observatory has met or exceeded all of its high-level requirements, it entered normal operations in January 2004, and is returning high-quality science data. A superfluid-helium cooled 85 cm diameter telescope provides extremely low infrared backgrounds and feeds three science instruments covering wavelengths ranging from 3.6 to 160 microns. The telescope optical quality is excellent, providing diffraction-limited performance down to wavelengths below 6.5 microns. Based on the first helium mass and boil-off rate measurements, a cryogenic lifetime in excess of 5 years is expected. This presentation will provide a summary of the overall performance of the observatory, with an emphasis on those performance parameters that have the greatest impact on its ultimate science return.
The Space Infrared Telescope Facility (SIRTF) was successfully launched on August 25, 2003. SIRTF is an observatory for infrared astronomy from space. It has an 85cm diameter beryllium telescope operating at 5.5 K and a projected cryogenic lifetime of 4 to 6 years based on early flight performance. SIRTF has completed its in-orbit checkout and has become the first mission to execute astronomical observations from a solar orbit. SIRTF's three instruments with state of the art detector arrays provide imaging, photometry, and spectroscopy over the 3-180 micron wavelength range. SIRTF is achieving major advances in the study of astrophysical phenomena from the solar system to the edge of the Universe. SIRTF completes NASA's family of Great Observatories and serves as a cornerstone of the Origins program. Over 75% of the observing time will be awarded to the general scientific community through the usual proposal and peer review cycle. SIRTF has demonstrated major advances in technology areas critical to future infrared missions. These include lightweight cryogenic optics, sensitive detector arrays, and a high performance thermal system, combining radiative and cryogenic cooling, which allows a telescope to be launched warm and to be cooled in space. These thermal advances are enabled by the use of an Earth-trailing solar orbit which will carry SIRTF to a distance of ~0.6 AU from Earth in 5 years. The SIRTF project is managed for NASA by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory which employs a novel JPL-industry team management approach. This paper provides an overview of the SIRTF mission, telescope, cryostat, instruments, spacecraft, orbit, operations and project management approach; and this paper serves as an introduction to the accompanying set of detailed papers about specific aspects of SIRTF.
SIRTF, -the Space Infrared Telescope Facility, is to be launched by NASA early in 2003. SIRTF will be an observatory for infrared astronomy from space with an 85cm aperture telescope operating at 5.5K and a 2.5-to-5 year cryogenic lifetime. SIRTF's three instruments with state of the art detector arrays will provide imaging, photometry, and spectroscopy over the 3-180um wavelength range. SIRTF will provide major advances for the study of astrophysical problems from the solar system to the edge of the Universe. SIRTF will complete NASA's family of Great Observatories and serve as a cornerstone of the Origins program. Over 75% of the observing time will be awarded to the general scientific community through the usual proposal and peer review cycle. SIRTF will demonstrate major advances in technology areas critical to future infrared missions. These include lightweight cryogenic optics, sensitive detector arrays, and a high performance thermal system, combining radiative and cryogenic cooling, which allows the telescope to be launched warm and to cool in space. These thermal advances are enabled by the use of an Earth-trailing solar orbit which carries SIRTF to a distance of ~0.6 AU from Earth in 5 years. This paper will provide an overview of the SIRTF mission, -telescope, cryostat, instruments, spacecraft, orbit, and operations - in preparation for an accompanying set of detailed technical presentations.
The Space Infrared Telescope Facility (SIRTF) is in the middle of the development phase and on track for a December, 2001 launch. This exciting mission takes advantage of innovative engineering choices to make groundbreaking science available in a cost-effective way. SIRTF, the fourth of NASA's Great Observations, takes advantage of tremendous advances in infrared sensor technology as well as a high level of observatory efficiency in order to promise a rich scientific legacy. The presentation provides an overview of the SIRTF Project and describes the Cryogenic Telescope, Science Instruments, and Spacecraft. In addition, investigation opportunities for the scientific community are described. A detailed report on the current status and future plans is also provided.