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Spitzer team drafts plan to save space telescope

The Spitzer Space Telescope, the less-famous cousin of the Hubble, is living on borrowed time thanks to budget constraints. In the middle of last month, it was announced that NASA has no plans to fund Spitzer beyond the 2015 fiscal year, which would end the mission after 12 years in orbit.

However, the Spitzer team refuses to give up hope of extending the mission.

Speaking via Twitter at the time of the initial bad news, the Spitzer team announced that the mission had not officially been canceled, but that the money required to fund it was not yet present. Additionally, there's the option that NASA could reconsider and assign funding to Spitzer in the 2016 budget proposal, which would mean that operations would continue through that point in time without interruption.

Additionally, there is extra cash in the Obama Administration's Opportunity, Growth, and Security Initiative, which amounts to about $900 million. This reserve cash is made available to various government agencies, NASA included, which can then petition for some of the extra money.

The same is true of the Opportunity Mars rover, which has been in the Red Planet since 2004 and is still going strong 24+ miles later.

However, the Spitzer team has come up with an idea that would save NASA money while keeping Spitzer aloft, possibly through 2018. The idea: cut staff, discontinue some engineering support, and stop efforts to make spacecraft operations more efficient.

So far, NASA has yet to respond.

For the record, funding for both Hubble (visual light) and Chandra (X-ray) telescopes was approved beyond 2015. Both Hubble and Chandra are older than Spitzer, launched in 1990 and 1999, respectively.

As for Spitzer itself, the infrared observatory was launched in 2003. Designed to observe in the infrared, Spitzer could see through the dust that could obscure the view with Hubble. The initial design life of Spitzer was 2.5 years, which would have resulted NASA pulling the proverbial plug in early 2006. However, still going strong and providing valuable science (including the first direct observation of an extrasolar planet), NASA kept the funding going, even in spite of the telescope running out of coolant in 2009, which rendered most of its instruments inoperable.

Still, limited as though it may be when compared to its original capabilities, Spitzer continues to provide cutting-edge science, which is the exact reason one can expect a strong lobbying effort to keep the funding flowing Spitzer's way.

Stay tuned for updates!

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