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Sleeping spacecraft to be awakened for new asteroid hunts

Aug. 21, 2013 at 8:57 PM   |   Comments

PASADENA, Calif., Aug. 21 (UPI) -- NASA says an asteroid-hunting spacecraft will emerge from a scheduled "hibernation" and return to service to look for potentially hazardous near-Earth objects.

The Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer will be revived next month with the goal of discovering and characterizing near-Earth objects, space rocks that can be found orbiting within 28 million miles from Earth's path around the sun, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., said Wednesday.

Launched in December 2009 to look for the glow of celestial heat sources from asteroids, stars and galaxies, WISE made about 7,500 images every day during its primary mission from January 2010 to February 2011 as part of a project dubbed NEOWISE.

NASA turned most of WISE's electronics off when it completed its primary mission, but says they will be reactivated for the spacecraft's new, extended mission.

"The data collected by NEOWISE two years ago have proven to be a gold mine for the discovery and characterization of the NEO population," Lindley Johnson, NASA's NEOWISE program executive in Washington, said. "It is important that we accumulate as much of this type of data as possible while the WISE spacecraft remains a viable asset."

In September WISE will be reactivated in September for a new three-year mission, researchers said.

"The team is ready and after a quick checkout, we're going to hit the ground running," Amy Mainzer, NEOWISE principal investigator at JPL, said. "NEOWISE not only gives us a better understanding of the asteroids and comets we study directly, but it will help us refine our concepts and mission operation plans for future, space-based near-Earth object cataloging missions."

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