GALEX Space Telescope Decommissioned On Friday
June 29, 2013

GALEX Space Telescope Decommissioned On Friday

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

After more than a decade of service, NASA officially decommissioned its Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX) orbiting space telescope Friday afternoon.

Operators at Virginia-based Orbital Sciences Corporation sent the signal to decommission GALEX at 3:09pm EDT (12:09pm PDT) on June 28. The telescope, which was launched into orbit on April 28, 2003, observed hundreds of millions of galaxies in ultraviolet light across 10 billion years of cosmic time.

"GALEX is a remarkable accomplishment," Jeff Hayes, NASA's GALEX program executive in Washington, said in a statement. "This small Explorer mission has mapped and studied galaxies in the ultraviolet, light we cannot see with our own eyes, across most of the sky."

During its career, GALEX was able to discover a massive, comet-like tail behind a speeding star known as Mira, and it also observed a black hole as it consumed a star. In addition, the telescope found giant rings of new stars around old, dead galaxies; confirmed the nature of dark energy; and discovered teenage galaxies as they transitioned from young to old -- a so-called missing link in the process of galaxy evolution.

GALEX will remain in orbit for at least another 65 years. It will then plummet back to Earth, burning up once it re-enters the atmosphere. The mission was initially scheduled to last just 29 months, but was extended three times before being cancelled. It also managed to collect images of nebulas, spiral galaxies, and other space objects.

In May 2012, in what NASA calls "a first-of-a-kind move," the space agency loaned the telescope to the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). The Pasadena-based school then used private funds to continue GALEX's operations, while NASA maintained ownership of the satellite.

"Since then, investigators from around the world have used GALEX to study everything from stars in our own Milky Way galaxy to hundreds of thousands of galaxies 5 billion light-years away," NASA officials said. "In the space telescope's last year, it scanned across large patches of sky, including the bustling, bright center of our Milky Way."

The telescope spent its time observing various regions of the sky, finding the exploded stars known as supernovae and watching as active galaxies and other objects change over time. GALEX also scanned the sky for large, feeding black holes and shock waves from early supernova explosions, the agency said.

Data from the last year of the telescope's mission will be released to the public in the coming year.

"In the last few years, GALEX studied objects we never thought we'd be able to observe, from the Magellanic Clouds to bright nebulae and supernova remnants in the galactic plane," said longtime team member David Schiminovich of Columbia University, who led GALEX science operations over the past year. "Some of its most beautiful and scientifically compelling images are part of this last observation cycle."

"GALEX, the mission, may be over, but its science discoveries will keep on going," added Kerry Erickson, the mission's project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.