Colorado engineers reflect on Spitzer Telescope's final voyage through space

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JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. — After spending more than 16 years in space and unveiling secrets of our universe, the Spitzer Space Telescope is wrapping up its final voyage.

The spacecraft is considered one of NASA’s four great observatories.

“We’ve done so many great things,” said Scott Tennant of Ball Aerospace.

Tennant and several other Ball employees in Boulder helped provide the Cryogenic Telescope Assembly and two of the three science instruments for Spitzer. 

Engineers at Lockheed Martin helped build the entire spacecraft. Locally, Lockheed’s Waterton Campus in Jefferson County is home to the mission support team which collects data from Spitzer and runs its operation. 

“Spitzer outperformed its expectations,” said Wayne Evenson, the Spacecraft Team Lead for the Spitzer Operational Team at Lockheed Martin.

Spitzer was only supposed to explore the cosmos for a couple of years, but its mission was extended multiple times thanks to its high-tech infrared technology.

Over the course of 16 years, Spitzer discovered Saturn’s largest ring, which is 300 times the diameter of Saturn.

It also discovered the first known system of seven Earth-sized planets around a single star, known as “TRAPPIST-1.” Three of its planets are located in the habitable zone (like Earth is with its Sun).

“They say it’s the solar system [TRAPPIST-1] that they know more about than any other solar system, aside from our own,” Evenson said.

Spitzer also captured the first 360-degree view of the Milky Way Galaxy. It’s considered the most precise image of the Milky Way.

“It was a fun discovery because it was something so close to us!” Evenson added.

Spitzer will wrap up its voyage next week and will officially go into “hibernation mode.”

The James Webb Space Telescope, which has more powerful infrared technology, will launch into space next year to continue exploring the worlds Spitzer discovered. 

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