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An Extensive History of Mission Support

The community missions office at the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) provides a range services for the following space- and ground-based observatories, missions, and technology development projects.

NASA Explorer Mission Proposals

STScI has partnered with several community-led teams on a number of small- and medium-class explorer missions over the past decade. Our roles have included providing the data archive, working with industry partners on the payload design process, and serving as principal investigators and science team members.

The International Ultraviolet Explorer (IUE)

The IUE performed spectrophotometry at high and low resolution, covering a dynamic range of approximately 17 astronomical magnitudes. Over 104,000 ultraviolet spectra were obtained between 1978 and 1996. IUE was an international collaboration between three groups: NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), and the United Kingdom’s Science and Engineering Research Council (now the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council). STScI hosts the IUE’s data management center, which is available to the public via the Barbara A. Mikulski Archive for Space Telescopes (MAST).

The Far Ultraviolet Spectroscopic Explorer (FUSE)

FUSE was a NASA astrophysics telescope used to explore the universe in the far-ultraviolet spectral region. Johns Hopkins University led the development of the mission, collaborating with the University of Colorado Boulder, the University of California, Berkeley, the Canadian Space Agency, the French Space Agency, and numerous corporate partners. STScI built the FUSE data management center and provided support for the science data processing pipeline. FUSE data are disseminated to the community through MAST.

The Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX)

Led by the California Institute of Technology, GALEX conducted several pioneering surveys, including the first ultraviolet all-sky survey. During its mission, GALEX produced the first comprehensive map showing a universe of galaxies under construction, bringing us closer to understanding how galaxies like our own Milky Way were formed. STScI disseminates GALEX data products to the community via MAST.

The Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory

The Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory is a NASA gamma-ray observatory that has a companion ultraviolet-optical telescope onboard to characterize gamma ray sources in those other wavelengths. STScI provides community access to the Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory data via MAST.

Kepler Space Observatory

The Kepler mission is a wide-field space telescope that surveys a region of the sky to determine which fraction of stars in our galaxy have planets and to measure the size distribution of those exoplanets. Kepler data are used to produce stellar light curves to search for transiting exoplanets. To date, Kepler science data has led to the discovery of several thousand of exoplanet candidates. STScI hosts the Kepler Data Management Center, which enables us to provide data from Kepler (including the data from Kepler’s extended mission phase known as K2) to the public via MAST.

The Mikulski Archive for Space Telescopes (MAST)

MAST supports and provides a variety of astronomical data archives to the astronomical community, with the primary focus on scientifically related data sets in the optical, ultraviolet, and near-infrared parts of the spectrum. MAST is NASA’s official Ultraviolet-Optical Science Archive Research Center. MAST hosts data from more than 20 telescopes, most of which are space-based, but also include data from three ground-based telescopes. Over 10,000 users request data from MAST on an annual basis.

Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS)

TESS is an Explorer-class mission launched in April 2018. The mission of TESS is to survey approximately 500,000 of the nearest and brightest stars to search for exoplanets. We developed the TESS data archive ground system, which is the primary source of TESS data for the astronomical community. In terms of data retrieved per unit time, the initial TESS data release in December 2018 was the largest release in the history of MAST.

The Chandra X-ray Observatory

The Chandra X-ray Observatory (CXO) is a space telescope that is sensitive to X-ray emission from astrophysical sources. X-ray emission comes from very hot regions such as exploding stars, clusters of galaxies, and accretion disks around black holes. The CXO was launched in 1999. We provide support for Chandra’s observation scheduling software.

The Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS)

Pan-STARRS is a ground-based telescope with the world’s largest operating digital CCD camera array. It has surveyed 75 percent of the sky (30,000 square degrees) and has mapped stars and galaxies over this entire area. Pan-STARRS has also discovered and characterized a range of near-Earth objects and comets. STScI hosts the public science archive for Pan-STARRS (~1.5 petabytes of data) and began disseminating Pan-STARRS data to the community through MAST in December 2016.

The STScI Digitized Sky Survey

The STScI Digitized Sky Survey is based on a set of all-sky photographic surveys in blue, green, red, and near-infrared wavelengths conducted with the Palomar and UK Schmidt telescopes. STScI digitized the photographic plates to create an online digital image archive to both support Hubble target selection and as a service to the astronomical community.

The Faint Images of the Radio Sky at Twenty Centimeters (FIRST)

STScI hosts data from an all-sky Very Large Array (VLA) survey called the Faint Images of the Radio Sky at Twenty centimeters (FIRST). Run by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), the VLA is one of the world’s largest radio astronomy facilities, consisting of 27 radio antennas in a Y-shaped configuration about 50 miles west of Socorro, New Mexico. The FIRST survey contains data for about 25 percent of the sky (10,575 square degrees), centered on the North and South Galactic poles. STScI astronomers were involved in the initial design and execution of the FIRST survey. Data from FIRST are available via MAST.

The Russell B. Makidon Optics Laboratory

The Makidon Optics laboratory at STScI is a state-of-the-art facility. The lab includes one Class 100,000 clean room and two Class 10,000 clean rooms. The space is temperature, humidity, and pressure controlled, and includes a vibration isolation pad original to the STScI building’s construction. STScI performs testing of advanced optics for astronomical instrumentation, with an emphasis on instruments for high-dynamic range imaging (e.g., coronagraphs). We provide support for both ground- and space-based instruments.


Contact the Community Missions Office