PALO ALTO, Calif., April 17, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- Scientists will soon gain a better view into energy and plasma movement near the surface of the sun, thanks to delivery of the Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) spacecraft to Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. in preparation for launch.
Part of NASA's Small Explorer (SMEX) Mission, which delivers space exploration missions costing less than $120 million, IRIS was designed and built at Lockheed Martin's [NYSE: LMT] Space Systems Company Advanced Technology Center (ATC) in Palo Alto, Calif. The program was developed with support from Lockheed Martin's Civil Space line of business as well as partners Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, Montana State University, Stanford University and the University of Oslo. The launch of IRIS will not take place before May 28.
"The entire IRIS team is enormously pleased that we've reached this crucial milestone," said Gary Kushner, Lockheed Martin IRIS program manager. "After many months of hard work by the Lockheed Martin team and all of our collaborators and subcontractors in designing, engineering, building and testing the instrument and integrated spacecraft, our goal of putting it into orbit is in sight and we look forward to producing great science at a low cost."
"The IRIS spacecraft and instrument are emblematic of the wide range of capabilities that Lockheed Martin brings to the exploration and utilization of space," said Dr. Kenneth Washington, vice president of the ATC. "The IRIS solar telescope is the latest in a five decade heritage of sensing payloads which, cumulatively, have operated for over 800 years in space. Moreover, our small satellite capabilities have supported multiple successful missions including IKONOS, Lunar Prospector, IMAGE, and now IRIS."NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., is responsible for mission operations and the ground data system. The Norwegian Space Agency will capture the IRIS data with their antennas in Svalbard, inside the Arctic Circle in northern Norway. The science data will be managed by the Joint Science Operations Center of the Solar Dynamics Observatory, run by Stanford and Lockheed Martin. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., oversees the SMEX project. The goal of the IRIS program is to better understand how energy and plasma move from a lower layer of the sun's surface called the photosphere, through the chromosphere layer and to the outer corona layer. Observation into this movement has been a fundamental challenge in solar and heliospheric science, and the IRIS mission will open a window of discovery into this crucial region by providing observations necessary to pinpoint physical forces at work in this little understood piece of real estate near the surface of the Sun.