(Sen) - NASA’s Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX) is due to get back to work after being loaned to the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) which will use private funding to continue the mission.
GALEX was launched in April 2003 from a Pegasus XL rocket and finished its primary mission in 2007. The mission was then extended until 7 February 2012, when the spacecraft was put into standby mode. The intentions were to decommission GALEX later in the year, however these plans have now changed to allow Caltech to take over operations of the spacecraft. Data obtained from GALEX will still remain available to the public.
On 14 May, an unprecedented Space Act Agreement was signed between NASA and Caltech to allow the university to “borrow” GALEX by using private funds. “NASA sees this as an opportunity to allow the public to continue reaping the benefits from this space asset that NASA developed using federal funding," said NASA’s Paul Hertz. "This is an excellent example of a public/private partnership that will help further astronomy in the United States."
It is thought that GALEX can still be powered for another 12 years by its batteries and solar panels. Once its power runs out, the dead spacecraft will remain in orbit for at least 66 years, before burning up in the Earth’s atmosphere.
NASA will still own GALEX, and also remain liable for the spacecraft, however when Caltech are finished with their scientific endeavours they will be responsible for finally decommissioning the spacecraft.
In the past nine years, GALEX observed the ultraviolet light in the Universe in order to make some fantastic discoveries. These include spying a comet-like tail trailing behind a rapidly moving star, confirming the nature of dark energy, and revealing the missing link between two types of galaxies.
By observing the evolution of galaxies, GALEX discovered that there is a transition between the brilliant blue spirals and the “dead” elliptical galaxies. "We were able to trace the life of a galaxy," said principal investigator Chris Martin. "We found that galaxies don't have a single personality, but may change types many times over their lifetime."
The use of private funds to continue operating such a valuable spacecraft is a huge benefit to astronomers. "We're thrilled that the mission will continue on its path of discovery," said project manager Kerry Erickson. "The Galaxy Evolution Explorer is like the 'little engine that could,' forging ahead into unexplored territory."