At 1:35 this morning, the Space Infrared Telescope Facility (SIRTF) was launched successfully into orbit after more than a year and a half of delays. The telescope circles the sun--not the Earth--as it peers into the cosmos in the infrared spectrum for the next five years.
"The launch was beautiful to watch," said Dan Watson, one of three University of Rochester astronomers including Judith Pipher and William Forrest, who helped design the infrared detectors on the telescope. Watson went to see the launch at Cape Canaveral. There was a tense moment establishing the first telemetry lock with the telescope about an hour after launch, but communications are now working and the new satellite appears to functioning well.
Over the next several weeks the telescope will undergo several tests and checkups to confirm that all its instruments are functioning, and regular observations are expected to start within three months.
NASA will rename SIRTF, as it has renamed other space telescopes such as Hubble and Chandra. The new name will be revealed at a press conference to be held in December--about the same time the first images from the telescope are made available to the public.