Midcourse Space Experiment


MSX Missions & Center Past


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.

MSX represented the first system demonstration in space of technology to track ballistic missiles during the midcourse flight phase. The spacecraft featured an advanced multispectral image capability to gather data on test targets and space background phenomena. MSX  aided future spacecraft design by monitoring on-orbit contamination of optical instruments. In addition, its investigation of the composition of Earth's atmosphere promised increased understanding of the environment.

Among the experiments was in infrared telescope that operated for about 10 months. Capable of observing at wavelengths from 4 to 26 microns, the infrared payload was designed to map celestial IR backgrounds.

Operational from 1996–1997, MSX mapped the galactic plane and areas either missed or identified as particularly bright by the Infrared Astronomical Satellite (IRAS) at wavelengths of 4.29 µm, 4.35 µm, 8.28 µm, 12.13 µm, 14.65 µm, and 21.3 µm. It carried the 33-cm SPIRIT III infrared telescope with solid hydrogen-cooled five line-scanned infrared focal plane arrays.

The MSX calibration serves as the basis for other satellites working in the same wavelength range, currently including AKARI and the Spitzer Space Telescope.

IPAC's role

 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 missed by IRAS. The MSX data archive is hosted by IRSA at IPAC.


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