– January 29, 2020 – Science
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- Spitzer’s last day of mission: what will happen to the space telescope?
The mission of the Spitzer Space Telescope is about to end. On Thursday, January 30, 2020, NASA will decommission this Great Observatory, which has contributed to several notable scientific discoveries. At the end of the procedure, Spitzer will not come to a spectacular end (like Cassini, who dived into Saturn’s atmosphere): it will simply wander through space.
What steps will NASA take to end the mission? They were detailed during a live event organised by the space agency on 22 January. Joseph Hunt, head of the mission, clarified the sequence of events.
- Read: NASA bids farewell to the Spitzer Space Telescope: what are its most significant discoveries?
The position of the Spitzer telescope on January 29, 2020 at 9:40 a.m. // Source: Screenshot Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Here are the steps NASA will take to take its device out of service.
- Science activities were still planned in the days leading up to the end of the mission: most of them ended on Tuesday, January 28. The last information sent through the telescope on these missions is up to today, 29 January.
- On January 30, Spitzer will be controlled from the ground to go into “safe mode”. It will now remain in this mode (which limits active programs).
- Spitzer will then continue on its orbit following the Earth. In 53 years, Spitzer will finally approach Earth. During this passage, the telescope will continue to advance and will leave orbit. He will then find himself alone in space.
The Tarantula Nebula as seen by Spitzer // Source: Flickr/CC/Nasa/JPL-Caltech
Asked if the engineers could regain contact with the telescope, Joseph Hunt explained that this was unlikely.
While waiting for Spitzer’s mission to end, it is possible to follow in real time where the space telescope is located. The site of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory indicates Spitzer’s position relative to Earth and its orientation as seen from our planet. The image is updated every 5 minutes. It clearly shows the particular orbit chosen for the telescope: it is not in orbit around the Earth, but around the Sun. Its orbit is parallel to that of the Earth.
The countdown is on. In one day the telescope will complete its mission. More than 6,000 days have passed since the aircraft was launched into space.