- Press Release
- Sep 29, 2023
Lockheed Martin proposing to Jet Propulsion Laboratory to study design options for NASA’s Terrestrial Planet Finder mission
Lockheed Martin Space Systems
Contact: Buddy Nelson (510) 797-0349
Pager: (888) 916-1797
E-mail: [email protected]
SUNNYVALE, Calif., February 4, 2000 — A team led by Lockheed Martin Space Systems has
proposed to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) to study several design options for NASA’s
Terrestrial Planet Finder (TPF) mission. TPF, a key mission in NASA’s Origins Program, is targeted for
launch in 2011 and will seek to identify Earth-like planets around nearby stars.
“We’re extremely proud as a company to be competing for this very important mission,” said Dr.
Domenick Tenerelli, Space Systems program manager for TPF. “A search for planets like our own
addresses directly the fundamental question of origins and the search for a unified theory of life, and
we’re delighted to be able to propose to JPL ways to accomplish that mission.”
The Lockheed Martin team, which includes the University of Arizona and the Massachusetts Institute
of Technology, is well suited to the technological challenges posed by the TPF mission. Space
Systems built and integrated the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) at its Sunnyvale facility, and HST’s
ultra-quiet systems have direct application to TPF. NASA’s Space Infrared Telescope Facility (SIRTF)
spacecraft is currently under construction at Space Systems. The SIRTF Pointing and Control
Reference System will operate at a temperature of 1.4 Kelvin, slightly cooler than the threshold
required for TPF. Additionally, with JPL, Space Systems is designing and building the interferometer
for NASA’s Space
Team member Dr. Roger Angel of the University of Arizona, a MacArthur Fellowship award recipient,
is pioneering the development of lightweight mirror systems (less than 15kg/m2) and optical designs
consistent with the requirements of TPF. Team member Dr. David Miller of MIT has done
groundbreaking research into the process of flying multiple spacecraft in formation that will be
required for programs like TPF.
The Terrestrial Planet Finder (TPF) will study all aspects of planets, from their formation and
development in disks of dust and gas around newly forming stars, to the presence and features of
those planets orbiting the nearest stars. It will investigate the numbers of planets at various sizes
and places in their solar systems, and gauge their potential suitability as abodes for life.
By combining the high sensitivity of space telescopes with the sharply detailed pictures from an
interferometer, TPF will be able to reduce the glare of parent stars by a factor of more than
100,000 to see planetary systems as far away as 50 light years. TPF’s spectroscopy will enable the
measurement of size, temperature, and placement of planets as small as the Earth in the habitable
zones of distant solar systems. This will allow atmospheric chemists and biologists to calculate
relative amounts of gasses like carbon dioxide, water vapor, ozone and methane in planetary
atmospheres and determine whether a planet might now or someday support life.
In addition to studying planets around nearby mature stars like the sun, TPF will advance an
understanding of how planets and their parent stars form. The disks of forming stars are a few
earth-to-sun units (AU) across. TPF will study such structures on the scale of a few tenths of an AU
to investigate how gaseous (Jupiter-like) and rocky (Earth-like) planets form out of disk material. By
studying the heat glow from dust, ice and gasses such as hydrogen and carbon monoxide, TPF will
investigate whether, as theory predicts, rocky planets form in warmer regions and gaseous planets
in colder regions while a solar system is being born.
TPF will also be able to examine many other astronomical objects where high resolution pictures, 100
times more detailed than those from Hubble, are critical to understanding astrophysical processes.
Combining the sensitivity of the Next Generation Space Telescope (NGST) with detailed imaging will
allow TPF to study the winds from dying stars that enrich the interstellar medium with life-enabling
heavy atoms (like carbon and nitrogen). TPF will also enable
astronomers to view the cores of quasars, and even the black hole at the center of our Milky Way
NASA’s Origins Program follows the chain of events that began with the birth of the Universe at the
Big Bang. It seeks to understand the entire process of cosmic evolution from the formation of
chemical elements, galaxies, stars and planets, through the mixing of chemicals and energy that
cradles life on Earth, to the earliest self-replicating organisms and the profusion of life. In short,
Origins hopes to answer the fundamental question: Are we alone in the Universe?
Lockheed Martin Space Systems, in Sunnyvale, CA, is a leading supplier of satellites and space
systems to military, civil government and commercial communications organizations around the
spacecraft and systems have enhanced military and commercial
communications; provided new and timely remote-sensing information; and furnished new data for
thousands of scientists studying our planet and the universe.