Missions & Centers

IPAC is home to the science operations center for the Spitzer Space Telescope. Spitzer is one of four of NASA's Great Observatories, and will continue to operate in its “Beyond” mission phase until its successor the James Webb Space Telescope has completed commissioning in 2019. IPAC also is home to NExScI, the science operations and analysis center for NASA's Exoplanet Exploration Program, as well as science centers serving the US community which support NASA partnerships with ESA on the Herschel and Planck missions. Support for NASA's NEOWISE mission to discover and characterize near-Earth objects rounds out IPAC’s current mission support portfolio.



The Herschel Space Observatory's mission was a Cornerstone mission in the European Space Agency. The 3.5 m telescope was launched in 2009 with three instruments sensitive to radiation at far infrared and sub-millimetre wavelengths allowing Herschel to explore the cold and dusty Universe. Herschel remained operational until 2013 exploring the formation and evolution of the first galaxies, clouds of gas and dust where new stars are being born, disks out of which planets may form and cometary atmospheres packed with complex organic molecules. Named after Sir William Herschel, the discoverer of the infrared spectrum and planet Uranus, and his sister and collaborator Caroline Herschel, the observatory had the largest infrared telescope sent to space at the time of its launch.

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NASA Exoplanet Science Institute (NExScI)

The NASA Exoplanet Science Institute (NExScI) is a science operations and analysis service organization for NASA Exoplanet Exploration Program projects and the scientists and engineers that use them. NExScI facilitates the timely and successful execution of exoplanet science by providing software infrastructure, science operations, and consulting to NASA Exoplanet Exploration Program projects and their user communities. NExScI is operated by the California Institute of Technology for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).

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The NEOWISE project is the asteroid-hunting portion of the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission. Funded by NASA's Planetary Science Division, NEOWISE harvests measurements of asteroids and comets from the WISE images and provides a rich archive for searching WISE data for solar system objects. During its primary mission which ended in 2011, NEOWISE delivered large and rich infrared datasets of minor planets, including more than 34,000 new discoveries. NEOWISE data have also enabled the discovery of the first known Earth Trojan asteroid. NEOWISE observations resumed in December 2013 and continue to date.

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Planck was a third-generation space mission whose primary goal was to study the cosmic microwave background (CMB), the remnant radiation from the Big Bang. Between Aug 2009 to Oct 2013, Planck took data in the 30-850 GHz frequency range. Its two instruments LFI & HFI provided the most accurate maps of the CMB and astrophysical foregrounds between us and the CMB. Measuring the temperature and polarization fluctuations of the CMB provides valuable clues about the way the Universe was born and when the first stars and galaxies formed. Data from the Planck mission continues to be widely used to further understand our Universe. Planck was led by the European Space Agency (ESA) with contributions from multiple EU countries and with significant NASA involvement.

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The Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) is a 2.7 meter telescope carried aboard a Boeing 747SP aircraft. The observing altitudes of SOFIA are between 37,000 and 45,000 feet, above 99% of the water vapor in the Earth's atmosphere. SOFIA currently operates 6 instruments, both imagers and spectrographs, covering a wide range in wavelength and spectral resolution. These include four Facility Science Instruments (FSIs), FORCAST, FIFI-LS, FPI+ and HAWC+, and two Principal Investigator-class Science Instruments (PSIs), GREAT and EXES. FSIs and PSIs are available to all General Investigators. The US share of the overall observing time is 80%. The remaining 20% of the time is allocated to the German astronomical community. By including new instruments and upgrades to existing instruments regularly, SOFIA retains its state-of-the-art capabilities.

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The Spitzer Space Telescope is a NASA infrared space telescope and the final element of the NASA Great Observatories program. Spitzer was launched in August 2003 and carries a near-infrared camera (IRAC), mid-infrared spectrograph (IRS) and a mid- to far-infrared photometer (MIPS). Since it began routine science operations in December 2003, Spitzer has revealed the Universe in new ways, from mapping extrasolar planet temperatures to discovering a giant ring around Saturn to helping to uncover some of the most distant galaxies in the universe. In 2009 Spitzer began its "warm mission" after exhausting its cryogenic coolant, and subsequently operates only the two shortest wavelength cameras on IRAC. In 2016, warm Spitzer entered its "Beyond" mission phase, planned to last beyond the 2018 launch of its successor, NASA's James Webb Space Telescope.

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