Lockheed Martin has been awarded a $19.4 million contract to continue to help NASA operate a satellite the company designed to observe the sun and support related scientific studies.
Lockheed said Monday the contract extends the company’s support for the Interface Region Imaging Spectograph observatory through September 2018, with an option for further extension of the performance period until September 2019.
“IRIS has taken more than 24 million images or spectral measurements of the sun since its launch three years ago, and it has led to more than 115 scientific papers,” said Bart De Pontieu, IRIS science lead at Lockheed's Advanced Technology Center.
“In this new extension, IRIS will be able to study a wide range of phenomena, including the source regions of fast solar wind, a stream of charged particles that continuously emanates from the sun at speeds of 1,000 km/s and fills the space around the Earth,” he added.
Lockheed said the IRIS program will begin to study the tail end of the solar activity cycle and focus on using observations to help identify factors that heat the sun’s chromosphere, which is responsible for most of the ultraviolet light that the Earth receives.
The satellite is built to also coordinate observations with ground-based telescopes such as the German GREGOR telescope, the Swedish Solar Telescope and the California-based Big Bear Solar Observatory.
The company added IRIS will work with the ALMA international radiotelescope in Chile to help scientists determine what causes the dynamics and heating of the low solar atmosphere.