Dec. 1, 1998 NASA's Submillimeter Wave Astronomy Satellite (SWAS) mission, scheduled for launch at 8:40 p.m. EST (5:40 p.m. PST) on Dec. 2, 1998, will gather star-formation data, which have remained invisible from beneath the obscuring effects of the Earth's atmosphere.
The overall goal of the two-year mission is to gain a greater understanding of star formation by determining the composition of interstellar clouds, and establishing the means by which these clouds cool as they collapse to form stars and planets.
"During its mission, SWAS will observe hundreds of regions of ongoing star formation within our galaxy. The answers SWAS will provide are important not only to the understanding of the formation of future stellar systems, but also to the understanding of the processes that led to the formation of the Sun, the Earth, and the other planets and moons in our own solar system," said Dr. Gary Melnick, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, principal investigator for the SWAS mission.
SWAS will be launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA, via a Pegasus-XL launch vehicle, built by Orbital Sciences Corporation. The launch vehicle is a three-stage, solid- propellant booster system carried aloft by an L-1011 jet aircraft. The system will be released when the aircraft reaches an altitude of about 40,000 feet (12,200 meters) and has airspeed of Mach 0.8. The SWAS mission is designed for a two-year duration.
SWAS is one of NASA's Small Explorers (SMEX) satellites, which are both small and economical. The SWAS spacecraft weighs only 625 pounds. The satellite was designed and built by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD.
The SWAS observatory will be inserted into an orbit with an altitude of 370 miles above the Earth, and will orbit the Earth every 97 minutes. SWAS will typically observe three to five astronomical objects per orbit. The observed data will be stored in the spacecraft memory and sent to a ground station. Within 24 hours of receipt at the ground station, these data are received at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory's Science Operation Center in Cambridge, MA. There, the science content of the data is analyzed and new astronomical targets are selected for observation.
Further information about SWAS can be found on the Internet at:
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