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Wide-Field Infrared Explorer

Phase: Past

Launch Date: March 04, 1999

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The Wide-field Infrared Explorer (WIRE) was a small satellite carrying a cryogenically cooled infrared telescope designed to study starburst galaxies -- vast clouds of molecular gas cradling the sites of newborn stars. Developed under NASA's Small Explorer Program, WIRE was intended to have a four-month primary mission.

WIRE was launched on a three-stage Pegasus XL vehicle released from an L-1011 aircraft over the Pacific Ocean after takeoff from California's Vandenberg Air Force Base. The satellite was placed in orbit around Earth at an altitude of 540 kilometers (about 335 miles). Due to an equipment malfunction, the telescope's coolant was rapidly depleted shortly after launch, leaving it unusable for its original science objective.

The WIRE spacecraft was repurposed to use the onboard star tracker for long-term monitoring of bright stars. The new astroseismology program measured the oscillations in nearby stars to probe their structure.

The WIRE spacecraft was designed and built by the Small Explorer project team at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. The infrared telescope was built for JPL by the Space Dynamics Laboratory of Utah State University in Logan, Utah. WIRE operations were transferred from Goddard Space Flight Center to the Bowie State University's Satellite Operations and Control Center.

WIRE re-entered the atmosphere on May 10, 2011 at approximately 07:00 GMT.

Last updated: April 24, 2015

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