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Swift is a three-telescope space observatory for studying the position, brightness, and physical properties of gamma ray bursts. Although gamma ray bursts are the largest known explosions in the Universe, outshining the rest of the Universe when they explode unpredictably in distant galaxies, their underlying nature and the cause of the explosion are true mysteries of astrophysics. Swift was selected in October 1999 as a MIDEX mission.
NASA and the German space agency, DLR, are working together to create SOFIA - a Boeing 747-SP aircraft modified to accommodate a 2.5 meter reflecting telescope. SOFIA will be the largest airborne telescope in the world, and will make observations that are impossible for even the largest and highest of ground-based telescopes. The observatory is being developed and operated for NASA by a team led by the Universities Space Research Association (USRA).
GLAST will use particle accelerator detector technology to study the high energy gamma rays from natural particle accelerators throughout the Universe. With GLAST, astronomers will have a superior tool to study how black holes, notorious for pulling matter in, can accelerate jets of gas outward at fantastic speeds. Physicists will be able to study subatomic particles at energies far greater than those seen in ground-based particle accelerators. And cosmologists will gain valuable information about the birth and early evolution of the Universe. GLAST will map the sky with 100 times the sensitivity, resolution, and coverage of previous high energy gamma ray missions. GLAST is a collaboration with the Department of Energy and several foreign space agencies.
The DUO mission would include seven X-ray telescopes to measure the dark matter and dark energy that dominate the content of the universe, with 100 times the sensitivity of previous X-ray studies. DUO was selected for study as a potential Small Explorer mission in November 2003.
EUSO would detect the highest-energy cosmic rays known by using the entire Earth as a particle detector. EUSO will look down on the Earth's atmosphere to observe the characteristic blue light that high-energy cosmic rays generate after hitting the Earth's atmosphere. EUSO is under study by the European Space Agency for flight on the Columbus module of the ISS, and NASA would provide the large Fresnel lens for the telescope.
James Webb Space Telescope (formerly the Next Generation Space Telescope) is designed for observations in the far visible to the mid infrared part of the spectrum. This wavelength coverage is different from that of the HST which covers the range from the ultraviolet to the near infrared. JWST will probe the era when stars and galaxies started to form; it will also address many other astronomical questions.
JMEX is a telescope intended to study Jupiter's aurora and magnetosphere from Earth orbit. JMEX was selected for study as a potential Small Explorer mission in November 2003.
The Kepler mission is a space telescope specifically designed to detect Earth-sized planets around stars in the Sun's neighborhood of the galaxy. By monitoring 100,000 stars over a four-year mission, Kepler could detect up to 500 Earth-sized planets and up to 1000 Jupiter-sized planets. Kepler was selected in December 2001 as a Discovery mission.
LISA is a gravity wave telescope which will open up one of the last non-electromagnetic channels for studying the Universe. Its goal is to detect gravitational radiation with periods of minutes to hours such as that produced by two coalescing massive black holes in a distant galaxy. LISA will also provide an unprecedented test of strong field general relativity theory. LISA is identified in the OSS Strategic Plan.
NuSTAR is a telescope intended to carry out a census of black holes with 1000 times more sensitivity than previous experiments. NuSTAR was selected for study as a potential Small Explorer mission in November 2003.
WISE is an infrared telescope designed to survey the entire sky with 1,000 times more sensitivity than previous missions. WISE would be led by Edward L. Wright of the University of California, Los Angeles. WISE (originally named the Next Generation Sky Survey, NGSS) was selected as a potential Mid-Class Explorer (MIDEX) in April 2002; in March 2003 WISE was approved for further study. A decision on proceeding to flight development with WISE will be made in 2004.