Three space missions extended

Artist's concepts of Spitzer, Planck and Kepler

Artist's concepts of Spitzer, Planck and Kepler. NASA extended Spitzer and Kepler for two additional years; and the US portion of Planck, a European Space Agency mission, for one year. (Relative sizes not to scale.)

NASA HAS EXTENDED three missions—Kepler, the Spitzer Space Telescope and the US portion of the European Space Agency’s Planck mission—as a result of the 2012 Senior Review of Astrophysics Missions.

“This means scientists can continue using the three spacecraft to study everything from the birth of the universe with Planck, and galaxies, stars, planets, comets and asteroids with Spitzer, while Kepler is determining what percentage of Sun-like stars host potentially habitable Earth-like planets,” said Michael Werner, the chief scientist for astronomy and physics at JPL.

Kepler has been approved for extension through fiscal year 2016, providing four additional years to find Earth-size planets in the habitable zone—the region in a planetary system where liquid water could exist on the surface of the orbiting planet—around Sun-like stars in our galaxy.

Spitzer, launched in 2003, will continue to provide the astronomical community with its unique infrared images for another two years. It has continued to explore the cosmos since running out of coolant, as expected, in 2009.

Among its many duties during its “warm mission”, the observatory is probing the atmospheres of planets beyond our Sun and investigating the glow of some of the most distant galaxies known. As requested by the project, Spitzer received two additional years of operations.

NASA will fund an additional year of US participation in the European Space Agency’s Planck mission. Planck, launched in 2009, is gathering data from the very early universe, shortly after its explosive birth in a big bang. Planck’s observations are yielding insight into the origin, evolution and fate of our universe.

More information:

Kepler mission

Spitzer Space Telescope

Planck mission

Adapted from information issued by JPL. Images courtesy NASA / JPL-Caltech.

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