Our History

IRAS (1985-):

Established in 1985 to conduct the IRAS extended mission, IPAC was established on the campus of the California Institute of Technology, and originally provided expertise and support for the processing and analysis of data from IRAS. IPAC's role with IRAS continues to this day, with the Infrared Science Archive (IRSA) at IPAC holding the IRAS archive. 

NED (1990-):

The NASA/IPAC Extragalactic Database (NED) started service in 1990, and quickly became an essential tool for extragalactic research. NED is the world's largest database of cross-correlated multiwavelength data for extragalactic objects, providing a systematic fusion of information integrated from hundred of large sky surveys and tens of thousands of research publications. The contents and services span the entire observed spectrum from gamma rays through radio frequencies.

NED is built around a master list of extragalactic objects for which cross-identifications of names have been established, accurate positions and redshifts entered to the extent possible, and some basic data collected. Bibliographic references relevant to individual objects have been compiled, and abstracts of extragalactic interest are kept on line. Detailed and referenced photometry, position, and redshift data, have been taken from large compilations and from the literature.

NED also includes images from 2MASS, from the literature, and from the Digitized Sky Survey.

NED's data and references are being continually updated, with revised versions being put on-line every 4-6 months.

IRSA (1993-):

In 1993, IPAC was designated as the NASA Infrared Science Archive Center, and IRSA was established to carry out that function.

IRSA’s charter states that it will (1) curate and serve scientific data products  from NASA’s  infrared  and sub-millimeter projects and missions, (2) enable optimal scientific exploration of these data sets by astronomers, and (3) support planning for, operation of, and data set generation from NASA missions.

IRSA is currently undergoing a major expansion -- the largest in its history -- from holdings dominated by IRAS and 2MASS to a much broader portfolio. IRSA is now the permanent home of the Spitzer Heritage Archive, the WISE Archive, and the NASA Planck Archive. IRSA will provide seamless access to Herschel data, and long-term access to public data products from SOFIA.

ISO (1995-):

IPAC supported the US community in their use of ISO (1995-98), the first pointed infrared observatory in space.

IRSA maintains the ISO Visualizer - a tool for displaying ISO observations on the sky, providing links to the ISO postcard server at Vilspa, Spain and Atlas, which serves a uniform catalog of Short Wavelength Spectrometer (SWS) spectra derived from valid, full-scan, 2.4 - 45.5 micron spectra available in the ISO archive.

MSX (1996-)

The Midcourse Space Experiment (MSX), a Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO) sponsored military satellite, was launched in April 1996. MSX offered benefits for both the defense and civilian sectors.

Collaborative efforts between the Air Force Research Laboratory and IPAC has resulted in an archive containing images for about 15 percent of the sky, including the entire Galactic Plane, the Large Magellanic Cloud, and regions of the sky not covered  by IRAS. The MSX data archive is hosted by IRSA at IPAC.

2MASS (1997-):

IPAC carried out analysis, processing and archiving for 2MASS (1997-2001), the first high-resolution, all-digital sky survey.

IRSA maintains the 2MASS archive with access to images, catalogs and analysis tools.

Spitzer Space Telescope (1997-):

The responsibility for the Spitzer Science Center (SSC) was assigned to IPAC in 1997, and Spitzer began science operations in 2003.

The SSC is responsible for science operations for the astronomical community including  proposal planning, observation planning, observation scheduling, data processing, data archiving, data reduction support, public affairs and education and public outreach.

The Spitzer Heritage Archive  for science data is hosted by IRSA, also within IPAC.

NExScI (2000-):

The NASA Exoplanet Science Institute (NExScI) was established in 2000. NExScI provides tools and archives for the exoplanet community, administers the Sagan program of fellowships and workshops,  supports the Keck Interferometer and Large Binocular Telescope Interferometer. NExScI provides administration of NASA Keck telescope time, and additional projects in the Exoplanet Exploration Program. NExScI has also developed and operates the Kepler Science and Analysis System (KSAS), tools from which will be incorporated into the various NExScI maintained data archives in the future.

PTF (2007-):

The Palomar Transient Factory (PTF) is a fully-automated, wide-field survey aimed at a systematic exploration of the optical transient sky.

IPAC is responsible for the data processing and archiving for PTF.

Planck (2009-):

IPAC is the home of the US Planck Science Data Center, with IPAC engineers and scientists responsible for retrieving mission data from the Planck Data Processing Centers (in Paris, France and Trieste, Italy) and staging data for usage by Planck team members and for archival research.

IPAC's responsibilities also included generating the Early Release Compact Source Catalog (ERCSC), which was the first public data product from the mission.

Herschel (2009-):

NASA is a partner in the Herschel mission, with US participants contributing to the mission; providing mission-enabling instrument technology and sponsoring the NASA Herschel Science Center (NHSC) at IPAC. The NHSC is established to provide the US astronomical community with science and observational support throughout all phases of the Herschel mission.


IPAC is responsible for ingestion of raw WISE data, data processing to produce the final data products, and archiving mission science and engineering data. IPAC is also responsible for the distribution of WISE data to the community, in collaboration with the NASA/IPAC Infrared Science Archive. The IPAC Communications team also supports WISE public affairs and public outreach by preparing all of the WISE images for public release into the image gallery. 

TMT (2011-):

Since 2011, the IPAC Communications and Education team has been responsible for all public affairs, education and public outreach activities for the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT).

LCOGT (2012-):

IPAC, as part of our role in the scientific collaboration of the Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network (lcogt.net), serves as the long term data archive for the network of telescopes.  The data archive is being designed in concert with the deployment of the 1-m telescopes and will eventually hold data from the 2-m and 0.4-m telescopes as well.

LSST (2014-):

Since 2006, IPAC has participated in Data Management activities for LSST, and was identified as a key partner for its implementation. In 2014, the LSST Science User Interface and Tools (SUI/T) group was been established at IPAC.

IPAC as a part of Caltech is an institutional member of the project, and is developing the web-based Science User Interface, providing the immediate portal for astronomers and the public to the data collected by the LSST on nightly, yearly, and survey-long bases. The data will primarily be in the form of images, from a single CCD to the entire 9 square degree focal plane, and catalogs produced by extracting source information from the images as part of LSST Data Management.

Future - WFIRST, & Euclid:

A major focus of IPAC and STScI in support of pre-formulation is to engage the scientific community in preparing for and helping to define the science mission of WFIRST-AFTA. IPAC and STScI achieve this by organizing and sponsoring science workshops and conferences, maintaining a presence at AAS meetings, establishing a collaborative website with basic information, news, and tools, and providing support to the project in the creation of a WFIRST-AFTA science book.

In 2014, NASA established the Euclid NASA Science Center at IPAC (ENSCI) in order to support US-based investigations using Euclid data. ENSCI will participate in the Euclid Consortium’s Science Ground Segment, providing algorithm and software development, participating in data quality assurance, and performing data processing. In addition, ENSCI will support the US research community by providing expert insight into the Euclid surveys, data processes, calibration, and products.

Proposed missions - NEOCam:

he Near-Earth Object Camera (NEOCam) is a new mission proposal designed to discover and characterize most of the potentially hazardous asteroids that are near the Earth. NEOCam consists of an infrared telescope and a wide-field camera operating at thermal infrared wavelengths.

In 2015, NASA announced that NEOCam is one of 5 mission proposals selected for further study. NASA selected five science investigations for refinement during the next year as a first step in choosing one or two missions for flight opportunities as early as 2020. The submitted proposals would study Venus, near-Earth objects and a variety of asteroids.

IPAC will serve as the home for NEOCam's science data processing system.