Midcourse Space Experiment

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Midcourse Space Experiment
Midcourse Space Experiment.png
Midcourse Space Experiment
General information
NSSDC ID 1996-024A
Organization BMDO
Launch date 24 April 1996
Launch site Vandenberg AFB SLC-2W, California, U.S.
Launch vehicle Delta 7920-10
Mass 2700 kg
Type of orbit Geocentric
Orbit height 898-903 km
Orbit period 100 minutes
Website MSX home page

The Midcourse Space Experiment (MSX) is a Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO) satellite experiment (unmanned space mission) to map bright infrared sources in space. MSX offered the first system demonstration of technology in space to identify and track ballistic missiles during their midcourse flight phase.[1]


On 24 April 1996, the BMDO launched the MSX satellite on a Delta II booster from Vandenberg AFB, California. MSX was placed in a sun-synchronous orbit at 898 km and an inclination of 99.16 degrees. MSX's mission was to gather data in three spectral bands (long wavelength infrared, visible, and ultraviolet). MSX became a contributing sensor to the Space Surveillance Network on 13 May 1998.


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.

Alpha Centauri by MSX

Calibration of MSX posed a challenge for designers of the experiment, as baselines did not exist for the bands it would be observing under. Engineers solved the problem by having MSX fire projectiles of known composition in front of the detector, and calibrating the instruments to the known black-body curves of the objects. The MSX calibration serves as the basis for other satellites working in the same wavelength range, including AKARI (2006-2011) and the Spitzer Space Telescope (SST).

MSX data is currently available in the Infrared Science Archive (IRSA) provided by NASA's Infrared Processing and Analysis Center (IPAC). 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.[2]


  1. ^ Williams, Frank. "Space-Based Surveillance Operations Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration," Space Tactics Bulletin, Vol 6, Issue 4
  2. ^ http://www.ipac.caltech.edu/project/14

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